Is it a cold or the flu? A medical expert explains the difference

Posted at 11:59 AM, Dec 19, 2019

Flu season is in full swing, and you're probably noticing a lot more sniffles or coughs out and about.

You can feel when something is coming on. Then the anxiety starts: what is it? And how bad is it going to be?

“With the flu, it’s very abrupt,” says Dr. Mia Finkelston, the medical director for American Well. “You're fine one minute, the next minute you feel like you literally walked into a wall.

“Whereas with the cold, it’s more of a gradual onset, usually starting with that scratchy sore throat that you know something is starting. The next day, maybe you’ll develop the congestion. Then the next day, that cough starts.”

Finkelston says if you have a fever or if you're very runny, stay home.

And do you need antibiotics for the flu or cold?

Finkelston says, “no” because they are viruses.

People can end up on antibiotics, though, with the cold or flu if they get a second bacterial infection.

If you catch flu symptoms within 48 hours, you can get something prescribed to lessen the impact, like Tamiflu.