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Cold or Flu: How You Can Tell the Difference?

While thoughts of spring may fill your head, colds and flus are still in full force during these chilly months. If you develop a respiratory illness, figuring out which one you’re dealing with is important so that you can get the right treatment.

At Forest Urgent Care in Forest Hills, New York, our team of experienced medical providers are well-versed in the nuances between the cold and flu, which are caused by different viruses. More importantly, we understand how best to approach each respiratory illness so that you can get back to anticipating spring.

To help you figure out the difference between a cold and the flu, here’s what you should be on the lookout for.

Abrupt or gradual

One of the main differences between a cold and flu is the speed with which your symptoms develop. With the flu, your symptoms come on very abruptly as the virus is often stronger and has a more immediate effect on your body. These symptoms include:

With a cold, you may experience many of these same symptoms, but they come on more gradually and they’re less severe.

Heating up

Another big difference between a cold and a flu is the presence of a fever. Colds rarely cause a fever, which is far more common with the flu. In addition to the fever, you may also experience chills and shivering. The fever typically lasts for 3-5 days as your body attempts to fight off the virus.


Any viral infection can leave you with less energy, but the fatigue that often accompanies the flu is usually more prolonged, lasting for weeks. With a cold, you may feel a little lethargic for about a week.

Body aches and headaches

If you’re experiencing widespread body aches, these are usually at the hands of the flu. While you may feel lousy with a cold, the all-over body aches are usually not part of the picture.

On the other hand, headaches are part and parcel of both illnesses, though they do differ. The headaches that come with the cold are usually a result of congestion while the headaches that come with the flu are pounding headaches that affect your entire head.

Congestion and runny nose

If your primary symptoms are congestion and a runny nose, the odds are you’re dealing with a cold. While nasal issues can crop up with a flu, the bigger threat is much lower in your respiratory tract, namely your lungs. In fact, pneumonia is a clear and present danger when it comes to the flu, especially among the elderly.

Nausea and vomiting

Lastly, if you’re experiencing nausea and vomiting, these are signs of the flu, not a cold.

The best way to figure out which respiratory illness you’re dealing with is to have us take a look. At the very least, we can help relieve the symptoms of both the cold and the flu, and if we find that you have the flu, we can provide you with treatments that work to shorten the duration of the illness. 

If you suspect that you have a developing cold or flu, early diagnosis and treatment is the best road to recovery in either case. Simply contact us to make an appointment or walk into our office.

**Please note: Our Long Island City location is currently closed due to Coronavirus. We will reopen the location as soon as we can. In the meantime, please utilize Forest Urgent Care in Forest Hills, NY.

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