Colds and flu are contagious viruses that are transmitted from person to person. Symptoms of the common cold and influenza are similar, but flu symptoms are more severe.
The terms ‘cold’ and ‘flu’ are often used interchangeably, but they are different illnesses resulting from different viruses. A virus which leads to a cold will cause a person to feel unwell, but still able to get on with most day-to-day activities. The flu virus is more debilitating than the common cold, and genuine flu sufferers will find it difficult to do anything except lie down and rest.
What are Colds and Flu?
Once a cold or flu virus enters the body, it attacks the body’s cells and reproduces rapidly, spreading in just a few hours. Cold and flu viruses affect the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, sinuses, trachea, larynx and bronchial tubes), and symptoms of colds and flu are caused by the immune system’s reaction to the invasion of such viruses.
Colds and flu are self-limiting infections, meaning that they go away on their own. Taking lots of rest, drinking plenty of fluids and using over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and cough remedies, usually manage the symptoms of colds and flu.
Symptoms of the Common Cold
The common cold is so called simply because it is a very common infection among humans, with adults and children usually suffering from several colds each year. It is thought that more than 200 different cold viruses are responsible for causing colds. Symptoms of colds include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Blocked nose
- Blocked ears
- Mild temperature
- Feeling shivery
Symptoms of a cold will usually develop within one to two days of contracting the virus, and will be at their worst within three days. After that, symptoms will begin to ease, and will take a week or two to completely disappear.
Symptoms of the Flu Virus
Contrary to popular belief, the flu is not the same as a very bad cold. Flu is caused by three different influenza viruses of which there are different strains. Flu symptoms are similar to cold symptoms, but are more severe and appear more quickly. Other symptoms of flu include:
- Notably higher fever
- Aching muscles
Flu symptoms usually appear within a few hours of a person coming into contact with the flu virus. As with a cold, flu sufferers will usually start to feel better within a week, but tiredness may linger for some time.
Some people are at risk of serious secondary infections such as acute bronchitis and pneumonia if they contract the flu virus, and a flu vaccination may be recommended. At risk groups include people aged over 65, and those with:
- A weakened immune system
- Kidney or liver disease
- Cardiovascular disease
The common cold and the flu are caused by different viruses, with symptoms of the flu presenting more quickly and with more severity than those of a cold. However, as both illnesses share many of the same symptoms, distinguishing between a severe cold and the flu can sometimes be difficult.