Colds and the Flu | Symptoms

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How can I tell if I have a cold or the flu?

Although the common cold and the flu share many similar symptoms, they are 2 different conditions.

 The symptoms of a cold develop slowly and can include:

  • Fever up to 102°F
  • Runny or stuffy nose (often with green- or yellow-colored discharge)
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Watery eyes

Cold symptoms generally are milder than flu symptoms.

 Flu symptoms usually appear suddenly and can include:

  • Fever over 102°F
  • Stuffy nose
  • Nausea
  • Chills and sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches, especially in your back, arms and legs
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite

What is H1N1 flu?

The H1N1 influenza (also called swine influenza or swine flu) is a respiratory infection caused by a virus found in pigs. H1N1 flu can infect humans. For more information, see H1N1 Influenza.

Should I call my doctor?

In most cases, you don't need to see your doctor when you have a cold or the flu. However, if you have any of the symptoms in the box below, call your doctor.

Call your doctor if you have these cold and flu symptoms:


In children:

  • High fever (above 103°F), or a fever that lasts for more than 3 days
  • Symptoms that last for more than 10 days
  • Trouble breathing, fast breathing or wheezing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Earache or drainage from the ear
  • Changes in mental state (such as not waking up, irritability or seizures)
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve, but return with a fever and a worse cough
  • Worsening of a chronic medical condition (such as diabetes or heart disease)
  • Vomiting or abdominal pain

In adults:

  • A high, prolonged fever (above 102°F) with fatigue and body aches
  • Symptoms that last for more than 10 days or get worse instead of better
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • Fainting or feeling like you are about to faint
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Severe sinus pain in your face or forehead
  • Very swollen glands in the neck or jaw

Bibliography

See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/14
Created: 01/96

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