Cold Or Flu? Which One Do I Have and When Should I Call the Doctor?

Cold or Flu in PensacolaNot again! You wake up coughing, sneezing and feeling achy all over. Do you have the flu or just the common cold?

This is an important question to ask because while having a cold is uncomfortable, and usually lasts for a week, the flu can lead to more serious health problems if left untreated, such as pneumonia, bronchitis or sinusitis. In rare instances, it can be life-threatening.

Clue 1: When are you having symptoms?

The time of year that you are experiencing symptoms can help to determine whether you are dealing with a cold or the flu, as flu season lasts from Fall through the following Spring.

Clue 2: Take your temperature!

Since the common cold and flu often mimic each other initially with coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion and achiness, another quick way to determine if you have the flu is to take your temperature. Most fevers from colds are mild, rarely reaching over 101 degrees. However, fevers from the flu are typical, and run high.

Clue 3: What are your symptoms?

Cold symptoms usually begin with a sore throat, which typically goes away after a day or two. Nasal symptoms, runny nose, and congestion follow, along with a cough by the fourth and fifth days. Fever is uncommon in adults, but a slight fever is possible. Children are more likely to have a fever with a cold. Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms and come on quickly. Symptoms of flu include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion, and cough. Swine flu in particular is also associated with vomiting and diarrhea.

Clue 4: How long have you been sick?

Cold symptoms typically last for a week, but you are contagious during the first three days. This means you can pass the cold to the people around you, so stay home and rest! Most flu symptoms start to improve over two to five days, but it’s normal to feel run down for a week or more.

Still sick? It’s important to call your doctor if you experience any of the following severe symptoms:

  • Persistent fever: This can be a sign of another bacterial infection that should be treated.
  • Painful swallowing: Although a sore throat from a cold or flu can cause mild discomfort, severe pain could mean strep throat, which requires treatment by a doctor.
  • Persistent coughing: If you are still coughing after two or three weeks, it could be bronchitis, which may need an antibiotic. Postnasal drip or sinusitis can also result in a persistent cough.
  • Persistent congestion and headaches: When colds and allergies cause congestion and blockage of sinus passages, they can lead to a sinus infection (sinusitis). If you have pain around the eyes and face with thick nasal discharge after a week, you may have a bacterial infection and possibly need an antibiotic. Most sinus infections, however, do not need an antibiotic.

In some cases, you may need to get emergency medical attention right away. In adults, signs of a crisis include:

  • Severe chest pain
  • Severe headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Persistent vomiting

In children, additional signs of an emergency are:

  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Lethargy and failure to interact normally
  • Extreme irritability or distress
  • Symptoms that were improving and then suddenly worsen
  • Fever with a rash

If you do need medical attention, you can see one of our friendly and knowledgeable providers at ProHealth Medical Care for only $50. You will enjoy a short wait time, and walk-ins are always welcome. We now have 3 locations to better serve you.

Pensacola: 850-549-3379 ~ 3101 N. 12th Avenue
Gulf Breeze: 850-626-3430 ~ 1157 Gulf Breeze Pkwy
Milton: 850-677-0737 ~ 5825 Hwy 90


Photo, “Woman Sick With Flu” by Michal Marcol provided by