Cold and flu are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses and can be difficult to tell apart. While neither are pleasant to catch, the flu can be much more severe and can potentially have life-threatening complications.

It’s important to be able to tell the difference heading into winter, and the home doctor experts at House Call Doctor have all the information you need.


The easiest way to tell the difference between cold and flu is by looking at your symptoms. If you have a cold your symptoms may include:

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

Flu symptoms can include:

  • Dry cough
  • Moderate to high fever
  • Sore throat
  • Shaking chills
  • Severe muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Severe fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting.


Antibiotics don’t work against cold or flu as they are caused by viruses not bacteria. You can treat yourself at home by getting rest and sleep, drinking plenty of fluids and eating soft foods that are easy to swallow to soothe a sore throat. Over-the-counter medication can be used to relieve symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches and fever but won’t treat the flu.

If you have a cough and high fever that doesn’t improve, along with any trouble breathing or chest pains, you should call your GP immediately.

Stop the spread

Cold and flu spread easily in the community, but there are many things you can do to help stop the spread. The annual flu vaccination is the most effective way to protect yourself and others from contracting the flu. General hygiene is important – ensure you wash your hands, clean surfaces and stay home if you are experiencing any symptoms.