Cedars-Sinai Blog

Cold vs. Flu Symptoms

cold, flu, virus, when to go to the doctor, flu shot

Cold Symptoms

A cold is a viral upper respiratory tract infection that typically affects the nasal part of the respiratory system. The infection is usually mild and goes away without treatment. Symptoms may include a runny nose, headache, and sneezing. About half of patients can also experience a cough or sore throat. A cough that persists after other cold symptoms have cleared up may indicate bronchitis, sometimes called a chest cold, which is an inflammation of the airways in the lungs.

Colds are most common in winter and spring months, and usually last 7-10 days. You can help prevent a cold with frequent handwashing and by avoiding contact with people who have a cold.

Not a cold? Read, Why Am I Sneezing?

Flu Symptoms

The flu is caused by the influenza virus and lasts about 5-7 days. Symptoms of seasonal flu typically include fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle aches. The best way to avoid getting the flu is by getting a flu shot, which takes about 2 weeks after injection to start protecting you from the flu virus.

"Get your flu vaccine before the flu season starts," says Dr. Kang. "This not only reduces your risk of the flu, it also protects more vulnerable people around you who may not have good immunity, such as the elderly, people with chronic illnesses, or small children."

Who should get a flu shot? According to Dr. Jonathan Grein, Cedars-Sinai’s director of hospital epidemiology, everyone 6 months or older should get an annual flu shot before flu season starts.

Read more Flu Season Facts on the Cedars-Sinai website

Do I Have a Cold or the Flu?

Cold or flu infographic

Should I go to the doctor?

Cedars-Sinai Urgent Care Locations

Beverly Hills
8501 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Culver City
10100 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

Playa Vista
12746 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Playa Vista, CA 90094