One day, you wake up with a stuffy nose. It feels odd for some reason, your throat starts to feel ticklish and a pounding headache seems imminent. Is this of concern, and if it is, do you classify it as the common cold or a flu? What is the difference anyway? Two of the most commonly-confused respiratory illnesses are the common cold and flu. Many people cannot tell the difference because of their similarities. Here are signs to look out for that characterise each illness: 

Common Cold 

The contagious common cold is classed as an upper respiratory infection often caused by the rhinovirus. People with colds typically experience a runny or stuffy nose and constant sneezing. Fevers and headaches rarely manifest. Occasionally, you can feel fatigue. Coughs can be mild to moderate in severity. Symptoms slowly set in over time. 


The flu is the more serious of the two, with more intense symptoms and the possibility of it worsening with serious complications. Flu signs can hit you like an oncoming train abruptly. A fever, body aches, chills, weakness, chest discomfort, cough, and headaches are common symptoms of a flu. A flu is usually caused by influenza A, B and C viruses. While some people recover from the flu in a few weeks, others can experience worsening of symptoms and complications like ear infections, pneumonia, myocarditis, kidney failure, sepsis and more. In serious cases, it can even lead to death, so early diagnosis and treatment is crucial. Some people with pre-existing chronic health issues like asthma can experience the deterioration of their symptoms. Certain groups of people are more vulnerable to flu, like the elderly aged 65 and older, those with chronic medical conditions, weakened immune systems, metabolic disorders, pregnant women and infants. 

When Is It COVID-19?

Another similar respiratory illness occurred since the end of 2019 – COVID-19, which is still plaguing nations worldwide. It is difficult to identify this illness because of its similarity to colds and the flu, and because there are also asymptomatic patients that display no symptoms. A fever, dry cough and tiredness are common signs. Less common signs include a loss of smell or taste, rashes, diarrhea and a sore throat. Older adults and people with existing medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease seem to be more likely to develop more serious complications from COVID-19. While respiratory illnesses tend to be highly contagious and spread easily, COVID-19 is thought to spread even more easily than the cold and flu, causing more serious illnesses in some people. A swab test is usually needed to confirm whether a person has the coronavirus or not. 

The Bottom Line 

Once upon a time, having a runny nose or slight cough caused much debate whether it warranted seeing the doctor and taking precious medical leave or not. Today, COVID-19 has shown us that such symptoms are not to be taken lightly. No matter the scale of your symptoms, it is still recommended to call your house call doctor for a diagnosis. Getting checked by a house call doctor ensures that you get speedy treatment and reduces the chances of spreading the virus to others in a healthcare facility, and vice versa. 

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