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The common cold and the flu are two different illnesses that cause similar symptoms. Would you like to know the difference? Here are some facts about each one that can help you define whether you've got the flu or just a harmless cold.

What is what?

Feeling as if you've caught a cold? Or is it the flu? What is the difference between both? This is always tricky to say. People usually come into the doctor’s office, refer their symptoms and tend to use both terms, cold and flu, interchangeably, to describe a state of tiredness, soared throat and runny or stuffy nose, cough, headaches and sometimes, fever.

The truth is that the flu and the common cold are different illnesses with similar symptoms.

What is the reason behind this? Well, both the cold and the flu are viral infections, but they are caused by different viruses. Rhinoviruses, coronaviruses and adenoviruses are the ones that cause the common cold, while influenza virus is the one to blame for the flu.

Common cold 

Common cold viruses are present in microscopic droplets that wonder around us, in the air and surfaces. When they enter into our body, common cold viruses usually affect the upper respiratory tract, causing stuffy or runny nose, soared throat and cough and sneezing. The onset of the cold symptoms is slow. Normally, you will start feeling sick during the first two or three days of the infection, and it won’t be too long before the symptoms disappear and you feel better. It can take about one or two weeks for all the symptoms to disappear, without any other consequences.

There is no specific treatment for the common cold, but your doctor may prescribe you with something to relieve some of the symptoms, specially muscle pain and headache, as well as fever, if there is some.

You can also use some natural remedies, including drinking orange juice or taking vitamin C supplements to strengthen your immune system; herbal teas and honey, to relieve throat soreness and inflammation, and many others.

The flu  

The flu, on the other hand, happens suddenly, or acutely, as the doctors say, affecting also the upper respiratory tract.

Influenza viruses, which have gained notoriety over the last few years, are the ones to blame for the flu.

Do you remember the last influenza epidemics? Well, not every influenza infection is as dangerous as the A (H1N1), which is the one that caused the epidemics a few years back. Actually, influenza viruses are present in the environment, but they tend to infect people during specific times of the year, due to changes in weather and vulnerability of our immune system.

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