Cold and flu symptoms can be very similar, but you can tell the difference between a cold and the flu.
A cold is characterized by a runny nose and sore throat. The onset of a cold is usually gradual. It is often difficult to determine exactly when you catch a cold. There is no known treatment for a cold, but it is not long lasting. Most colds last from two to five days.
The symptoms of the flu start suddenly. There is a dramatic change from feeling well to an overall feeling of illness. Symptoms of the flu include headaches, muscle aches, and backache. These feelings are accompanied by a dry, scratchy throat, stuffed up nose, and a dry cough. The flu is often accompanied by nausea and may also include vomiting and diarrhea.
Most flu symptoms usually last three or four days, but may last longer. The longer the flu lasts the longer it takes to recover.
Both the cold and flu can have complications and may include secondary infections and symptoms.
The nature and duration of a common cold virus makes it impossible to build up immunity to a cold. Over time, however, it is possible to build up immunity to the flu. The problem is that the flu is continuously changing which means that a new strain of the flu may affect an entire population at any time. This is what we witnessed in the development of H1N1.
How to treat a cold.
The only way to treat a cold is to treat the symptoms. There is no antibiotic that works against the common cold. Use steam or menthol inhalers to clear a stuffy nose. Warm drinks, lozenges, or home cold remedies will help sooth a sore throat.
Aspirin, Tylenol, or Advil will help with fever that may develop as a result of a secondary infection.
How to treat the flu.
Receiving a flu vaccination may help your body develop antibodies and immunity to the flu.
The best treatment for the flu is bed rest and drinking an adequate amount of fluid. Aspirin, Tylenol, or Advil may be taken to help reduce fever and relieve body aches and pains.
Antibiotics will not treat the flu, but may be needed to treat secondary infections in the ears, nose, throat, or chest.
Most cases of the cold and flu can be overcome with rest and treatment at home. It is important, however, to pay special attention to the very young or very old who develop the cold or flu. Watch for secondary infections and complications, and contact a doctor if symptoms do not improve in a few days or get steadily worse.
Cold Guide, Webmd.com
Common Cold Symptoms, Mayo Clinic
Flu or Cold Symptoms? Webmd.com
Flu Symptoms and Types, Webmd.com