What are the symptoms of colds vs the flu?

Is it a cold or flu, ask the makers of Day and Night Nurse

You may know some common cold symptoms and even some signs of the flu, but perhaps you’re just not sure whether your sore throat and headache or stuffy nose and sneezing is one or the other. How can you be sure it’s the mild inconvenience of a cold and not the flu? And if it is flu, what should you do about it? Learn what's what when it comes to cold and flu symptoms in adults, plus the early signs of a cold to look out for.

Want to know more about colds and flu? Read our guide to colds vs flu to get the facts.

Cold symptoms

You’re far more likely to be suffering with a cold than with the flu, purely because colds are far more common. The average person gets between two and four colds per year, but with a yearly flu vaccination, it’s actually quite rare for adults to develop the flu. Research suggests that the average adult has the flu only twice per decade, although children get the flu on average every other year. Cold symptoms tend to be similar to – but milder than – those of the flu, but there are some things that can indicate you have a common cold.

    Sneezing and sniffling – symptoms of a cold include a runny or stuffy nose and plenty of sneezing. While these may also suggest the flu, they’re more typically associated with the common cold.

    Lots of mucus – a runny nose and a cough where you produce and bring up phlegm are associated more commonly with colds than with the flu. This is your body’s way of removing the virus.

    A sore throat – a cold often starts with a slightly sore throat. This can be an indicator that your symptoms are those of a cold rather than the flu.

    Feeling cold – when dealing with a cold you may put on extra layers or crank up the heating, but when you have a cold you’re unlikely to feel the severe chills associated with the flu.

    A temperature – a raised temperature simply indicates that your body is working hard to fight an infection. If your temperature goes beyond 38°C, however, it is more likely to be the flu.

    Headaches – a headache along with other flu symptoms (see below) means it’s far more likely you’ve got the flu.

    Aching muscles – with a cold, muscle aches are unusual. Aches & pains in your limbs or all over your body are more likely to be a symptom of the flu.

    Overall, feeling a bit under the weather – with a cold, it’s possible to carry out your daily routine as normal, albeit with less gusto and energy. Rest is best if possible, but with suitable medications you can manage to do most things. If symptoms are bothering you at night, medications such as Night Nurse Liquid and Night Nurse Capsules relieve headaches, sore throat, fever, runny nose, tickly cough, dry cough and aches and pains of cold and flu symptoms.

Learn the steps to take to help prevent colds and flu.

Flu symptoms

Many flu symptoms are the same as cold symptoms, though they are typically more severe.

    Feeling ill very quickly – with a cold, you may have a scratchy throat or a sniffle before it turns into a full-blown cold; with the flu, symptoms come on more abruptly.

    A temperature – if you have a fever of 38°C or above, it’s highly likely you have a flu virus rather than a cold. If you're concerned that you or someone else has a high temperature, call NHS Direct on 111 for advice.

    Headaches – while you may also have a headache with a cold, it’s likely to be less severe than with the flu.

    Chills – if you’re shaking with cold and your skin is sweaty or clammy to the touch, it’s more likely to be the flu than a cold.

    Aches – muscle aches or a feeling of pain almost as though it’s within your bones is a sign of the flu, not a cold. Taking a medication such as Night Nurse Liquid and Night Nurse Capsules can relieve the symptoms at night. It contains paracetamol to relieve aches & pains, as well as promethazine, which helps to dry up a runny nose and aids sleep.

    Feeling unwell for a while – it can take more than a week to fully recover from the flu.

    Overall, feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus – a good rule of thumb when it comes to comparing cold and flu symptoms is how you feel about doing something as simple as visiting the bathroom or raising your head to drink some water. If those things seem like near-impossible feats of strength, you may well have the flu, which affects your muscles and energy levels more intensely than the average cold

Find out more about the causes of colds and flu.

Flu symptoms in adults might differ from flu symptoms in children or infants. Call NHS Direct (111) or see your GP if you are concerned.

If you’re suffering from the symptoms of colds or flu, try Night Nurse Liquid and Night Nurse Capsules , which offer unbeatable strength* relief from cold and flu. Find out where to buy Night Nurse products in the UK.

Night Nurse products are suitable for adults and children aged 16 and over.

Is it a cold or flu, ask the makers of Day and Night Nurse