Cold or Flu? What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference between a cold or the flu?

The best way to break down the difference between a cold or flu is by symptom. The flu varies so much each year that it’s tough to really differentiate it from a simple cold, but there are a few key differences. A common misconception is that the flu effects the gastrointestinal tract causing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This is not the same as the seasonal flu, this is the stomach flu known in the medical community as gastroenteritis (infection of the GI system). Colds are usually caused by a variety of viruses, and they usually only impact the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, upper lungs and/or ears). The flu is caused by the influenza virus and can impact your whole body. The flu is more dangerous for the elderly, pregnant women and very young children as these people have a lowered immune system compared to the general, healthy public.


Flu: Usually at the onset of symptoms there will be a fever

Cold: Rarely present


Flu: Can be severe and limit day-to-day functioning. Usually occurs prior to respiratory symptoms or during the fever phase of infection.

Cold: Not usually present


Flu: Sometimes. This is usually during the fever and body-aches stage of infection. It is due to the immune response. The body doesn’t want you to eat so that it can spend its energy fighting the infection instead of digesting your food.

Cold: Rarely, but it depends on the severity.


Can be present in the flu and colds.


The most common symptoms that people suffer from when they have a cold or flu are the sore throat, cough and runny nose. These three symptoms are common to both colds and the flu. The flu has more of a whole-body effect than the common cold. Body aches, chills, fever, extreme fatigue or sleepiness are more often involved in the flu than in the common cold.

IF YOU’VE BEEN SICK for more than 10 days and your symptoms are not improving, it is important for you to see your Naturopathic Doctor to determine the cause of your infection and receive treatment.

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