How to Tell the Difference between a Cold, Influenza and the Flu

Posted on November 12, 2020

Category: Signs and Symptoms

The anticipation is over… the time has come… sick season is here. Whether you’re struck with the sniffles, headaches or vomiting… it can be hard to identify what kind of ailment you’re facing. Plenty of illnesses have a variety of symptoms and, sometimes, those symptoms clash. Today, we’ll be going over three illnesses that may plague people this season. The common cold, influenza and the stomach flu. We’ll also show you how to treat and avoid these illnesses, so your season can be merry and bright.

Here’s your guide to telling the difference between the cold, influenza and the stomach flu.

The Common Cold

There’s a possibility you’ve had a cold already this season, but if you need a refresher of the many symptoms, we’ll go over them here. The most common symptoms include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Headache

Many different viruses can cause a common cold, and symptoms usually appear one to three days after exposure. Colds are usually harmless and less severe than influenza or the stomach flu, and that’s what makes differentiating them so important. Seek medical attention if you experience a high fever, severe symptoms or pain.

The Stomach Flu

Often times, the stomach flu and influenza are interchangeably called the “flu.” Be sure to write this down: The stomach flu and influenza are not the same. Fighting the stomach flu is way different than fighting influenza, so don’t let similar names screw up your recovery process. The stomach flu happens when your stomach or intestines become inflamed and irritated. Eating and drinking unclean food and water is a quick way to get the stomach flu, but viruses are the most common. Bacteria and parasites can also be causes. Let’s take a look at the symptoms:

  • Stomach pain
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

If you’ve recently been exposed to a virus, unclean food and drink and are experiencing “flu-like” symptoms, you could have the stomach flu. Unfortunately, there is no specific medical treatment recommended for the stomach flu. To prevent dehydration and make things go as smoothly as possible, follow these remedies:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink plenty of liquids
  • Eat easy-to-digest foods
  • Avoid dairy products and fatty foods



Think you got the flu? It may feel like a cold at first, so beware. Runny noses, sneezing and sore throats are all common symptoms of both illnesses. But after a short bit, influenza comes with much more force. It attacks your respiratory system specifically. The more severe symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body ache
  • Chills
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath

The flu season is long and can stretch from early winter into late spring. Prevention and protection are your best bets.

(Infographic comparison)


Viruses are highly contagious. Avoiding the common cold and the flu may seem impossible, but with a little preparation, you’ll have a safe and healthy season. According to the CDC, these are the best ways to stay clear of all these sicknesses:

  • Avoid close contact with sick individuals
  • Cover mouth and nose
  • Keep hands clean
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school


Knowing these differences can help a lot since the flu season is just beginning. Getting a flu shot is always a smart way to start the flu season. It’s the single best way to prevent seasonal flu. Want to learn more? Check out all the great reasons to get a flu shot.