Cold or flu: know how to tell the difference

Young man suffering from cold or flu

What symptoms are associated with a cold and the flu? What do you do when you have a cold or the flu and, more importantly, how do you prevent them? Because they can have severe consequences for at-risk individuals, we’ll describe the difference between a cold and the flu, common ailments during our long Canadian winters…


Do I have a cold?

A cold is an infection in the nose or throat. It can be caused by a variety of viruses which are spread by tiny drops of nasal secretions or saliva.


Because the infection that causes a cold targets the nose and throat, its most common symptoms are a sore throat, sneezing, and a runny nose. A cough is not uncommon either, but it remains mild in most cases.


Can a cold affect my health and how can I treat a cold?

A cold is a benign infection so your immune system will be able to create the necessary antibodies to fight it. Generally, your cold will go away in a few days. There are no antibiotics available to treat a cold. However, there are products available at a pharmacy that can alleviate your symptoms. To fight a cold, you need to rest, stay hydrated, and avoid contact with others to limit the spread of infection.


In most cases, colds are completely harmless. However, the cold virus can spread to other areas of the body and cause other infections, such as a sinus infection or bronchitis. If your cold symptoms linger for more than 10 days, you should see a physician.


Finally, it’s important to know that although colds happen frequently in the winter, you can catch one at any time of the year, even in the summer!


The flu: a more serious infection

The flu, or influenza, is also a respiratory tract infection caused by a virus. Every year, the influenza virus changes and contrary to a cold, influenza is caused by a specific virus.


If you have the flu, your symptoms might include a runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat but in most cases the symptoms associated with influenza are a sudden, high fever that lasts for several days. Headaches and aches, sometimes quite severe, are also common, as is fatigue and weakness.

Contrary to a cold, flu only occurs during the winter, from December to April. Unfortunately, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Your body simply needs time to fight the virus and recover. However, drugs available at a pharmacy can help alleviate symptoms.


Influenza: health risks and prevention

Even though it is very unpleasant, the flu is generally harmless for healthy individuals. However, people affected by respiratory diseases (asthma, COPD, etc.) or whose immune system is diminished (senior citizens, children, those suffering from illnesses) are at risk of the complications of the flu: pneumonia, dehydration, other respiratory tract infections… In fact, every year the flu sends thousands of people to the hospital and it results in many deaths.


The vaccine: the best way to protect yourself against the flu

Anyone at risk from the complications of the flu should get vaccinated. Every year a new flu vaccine is developed to protect against active virus strains. The vaccine is available for free for people who are at risk of complications, as well as their loved ones. This other article on our blog will provide you with more information on this topic.


From November 1st and until the end of the flu season, you can get the flu vaccine by calling upon the in-home nurses with the Clinique GOTM team. In the future, protect yourself from the flu virus with our services!


Francis-Desjardins Approuvé par Francis Desjardins
Président et physiothérapeute depuis 1994.
Francis Dejardins