What are the symptoms of the flu versus a cold? 

It's not always easy to distinguish between the symptoms of the influenza (flu) virus and the common cold. Typically, symptoms of the common cold are milder than symptoms of the flu.

Symptoms of a common cold: 

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Congestion or cough
  • Sneezing
  • A slight headache or mild body aches 

Flu symptoms can include: 

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough or sore throat
  • Fever above 100 degrees F
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches and headaches
  • Fatigue 

More common in children, vomiting or nausea can be a symptom of the flu.  

Often referred to as the stomach flu, gastroenteritis is different than the influenza (flu) virus. Influenza is a virus of the respiratory (ear, nose and throat) system, while the stomach flu impacts your intestines.  

Swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus, is a variation of the influenza virus that originated in pigs, but can be spread from human to human. While uncommon, swine flu is contagious and symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. Swine flu treatment involves taking antiviral medicines prescribed by a doctor.

What are the best at-home remedies for treating the flu?

Get enough rest and drink plenty of liquids, especially warm liquids like soup or hot tea. The influenza (flu) virus is highly contagious. Avoid close contact with others and stay home at least a full 24 hours after your symptoms have subsided, so as not to spread the flu virus. 

When should you go to the doctor if you have a cold or the flu?

For a cold, seek medical care if symptoms persist longer than 10-14 days, or your symptoms get worse.

When to see a doctor if you have a cold: 

  • Adults with a fever of 102 degrees F or higher and children with a fever of 103 degrees F or higher
  • Severe or worsening headaches
  • Trouble breathing, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • Sore throat or cough that won't go away 

Treatment of the flu can require a doctor's care or medical attention. 

Signs you should see a doctor if you have the flu: 

  • Symptoms worsen after a few days
  • Trouble breathing or chest pains
  • High fever isn't coming down
  • Persistent cough or headache

For people in high-risk groups, the flu can potentially lead to more serious conditions, like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections or other medical issues. High-risk populations for flu-related complications include children under 5, adults over 65, pregnant women and people with certain health problems.

Located in downtown Denver, Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center is a leader in hospital treatment and care throughout Colorado. Talk to your doctor for more information on getting the flu vaccine and protecting your health during flu season.