Comparing Symptoms of the Cold and Flu

A woman sick in bed. Photo © Stockbyte/Getty

The symptoms of the common cold and seasonal flu can be very similar and make may it difficult to know which one you have. We have broken down the most common symptoms of these two viruses so you can easily see the differences and similarities between them.

You should also be aware that if you have either of these viruses - the common cold or seasonal flu - for several days, then you get better for a day or two and suddenly get very sick again, you should see your health care provider because this could be a sign that you have developed complications or a secondary infection.

Comparing the Cold and Seasonal Flu

SymptomCommon ColdSeasonal Flu
Runny/Stuffy NoseVery commonOccasional
CoughMoist and productiveDry cough (may also be productive)
Itchy/Watery EyesCommonUncommon
FeverUncommon but may occur occasionally in childrenVery common
Exhaustion/FatigueMild tiredness may occurVery common
HeadacheCommon - usually due to sinus pressureCommon
Sore ThroatCommon, but typically mildUncommon
Body AchesMinorSevere
Vomiting/DiarrheaThese are not symptoms of the common coldUncommon, but may occur occasionally in children
Onset of SymptomsGradualSudden


"Questions and Answers: H1N1 Flu ("Swine Flu") and You." H1N1 Flu 03 Nov 09. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 04 Nov 09.

"Flu Symptoms and Severity." Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 08 Sep 09. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 04 Nov 09.

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