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Is it a cold or the flu?

It matters. Believe us.

February 10, 2017

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Influenza (the common "flu") will likely surprise you with how quickly it hits and how long it sticks around. Flu symptoms can last up to a couple weeks and can even turn into pneumonia.

A cold, on the other hand, comes on gradually and will probably only last a few days. Cold germs are contagious for the first three days. If cold symptoms last more than one week, you may have a bacterial or sinus infection. Ask your doctor about antibiotics.


A hacking cough is much more likely to accompany a cold. A cough that is caused by a cold often produces phlegm or mucus, and usually clears up with cough medicine. The flu only creates a dry cough that does not produce mucus.

Stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat

If you have these symptoms, you probably have a cold.


Colds rarely come with a fever, while the flu promises a few days of 100°F or above temps.

Headache and muscle pain

Aches and pains are very common with the flu and rare with a cold. A cold, however, can cause some discomfort in your inner ear due to excess fluid getting trapped behind your eardrum.


Sometimes you’ll continue feeling run down for a few days even after flu symptoms stop. A cold rarely stops you from performing your day-to-day tasks.

Bonus: Flu home remedies

  • The best advice for treating the flu is to avoid it in the first place, so go get a flu shot.
  • Get plenty of rest. Like, a lot of rest.
  • Drink lots of fluids (focus on water).
  • Take acetaminophen/Tylenol or ibuprofen/Advil to lower your temperature.
    Warning: Do not give aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) to children or teenagers who have the flu.
  • There are also medicines called “antivirals” that treat the flu. Examples are Tamiflu and Relenza. They fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in the body. They work best when started within 48 hours after symptoms start.
Chart displaying the differences between symptoms of cold and flu

Here are some convenient options you might not know about:

Advice from a nurse

With HealthPartners CareLine (612-339-3663 or 800-551-0859) and Park Nicollet’s nurse line, you can talk directly with a nurse 24/7, 365 days a year. They can help you decide if it’s time to see a doctor, as well as provide helpful home remedy advice.

Urgent care

When care can’t wait, drop in to one of our convenient urgent care locations for treatment without an appointment. And because illness and injuries don’t keep office hours, urgent care is open evenings and weekends. Find locations and hours, and view current wait times for HealthPartners and Park Nicollet urgent care.

Our HealthStation serves the St. Cloud area and offers weekday and weekend walk-in care with no appointment needed. Find us inside the Coborn’s Superstore in Sauk Rapids.


With virtuwell, our 24/7 online clinic, you can get the care you need in 30 minutes or less. virtuwell diagnoses and treats over 60 common conditions like bronchitis and sinus infections. Each online visit costs $49 or less, depending on your insurance. Visit to find out more.

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