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Natalia Lusinski
January 30, 2018 11:00 am

Flu season is officially in full swing, and that means a lot of people are likely going to be under-the-weather in the coming months. And since symptoms of the cold and the flu are similar, you may be wondering how to tell if you’re coming down with a cold or if it’s the flu. Of course, as with any virus (and both the flu and a cold are viruses), there are no magical pills to help cure you. Instead, you need to wait them out—and stock up on plenty of fluids and rest in the meantime. But, we get it; you want to feel better ASAP, so you may try at-home hacks to get rid of symptoms fast. These include anything from taking a hot shower to gargling with salt water.

But how do you know it’s the flu and not a cold?

We may have a cold:

Or we may have the flu:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that “it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can tell if a person has the flu.” But, luckily, there are *some* ways you can try to decipher the mystery between a cold and the flu.

1Cold symptoms tend to be more mild than flu symptoms.

You may have a stuffy or runny nose if you have a cold, but the main way to tell if it’s the flu and not the cold are if you have added symptoms like fever, the chills, body aches, sore throat, headache and fatigue.

2Colds last for about a week. The flu gradually improves after a few days, but you can feel run down for a week or more.

Cold symptoms last for about a week, but if they last longer, you may have a bacterial infection and should see a doctor. The flu typically improves faster (after a few days), but because of the intensity of the flu you can feel run down for a week or more after.

4The flu can lead to more serious health conditions.

Most people who get the flu will recover in a few days to a week, but some people can develop complications. For example, people with chronic lung disease are at a higher risk for developing pneumonia. That said, if you have cold or flu symptoms that are worsening after a few days, contact your doctor immediately.

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