Spotlight: A Cold vs. Influenza

Published on in Parents PACK

Some people use the terms “cold” and “flu” interchangeably. However, this is inaccurate because the common cold is not caused by influenza. Indeed, people infected with influenza can often point to the hour they became ill because the symptoms begin so suddenly and are so severe.

Persistent fever and severe achiness, headache, chills, and moderate to severe tiredness generally describe an influenza infection. An influenza-associated cough will typically be dry and unproductive and may be accompanied by severe chest discomfort.

On the other hand, symptoms related to the common cold tend to appear gradually and be less severe. Coughs associated with the common cold tend to be hacking and productive. Chest discomfort, if present, is typically mild or moderate. Also typical of the common cold are sinus-related symptoms, such as sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat.

Perhaps the most important distinction between the common cold and influenza is the severity of these illnesses. A cold does not generally lead to serious health problems, except perhaps an occasional sinus or middle ear infection. However, complications from influenza can include bronchitis, viral pneumonia, bacterial pneumonia, and the worsening of chronic conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, heart disease and more. These complications can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death.

Because influenza can be severe, getting an influenza vaccine is recommended.

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.