It can be difficult to tell a common cold from the flu, since they share many symptoms. This article lays out five ways the flu and the common cold are different. It gives enough information for the sufferer to figure out what they have and what to expect without a trip to the doctor.
Trouble breathing could point to pneumonia or sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection.
“The flu sets you up for secondary infections,” Curry cautions. “The flu can make you more predisposed to other things that make you sick.”
Another red flag? An altered level of consciousness.
“If you’re really confused, you can’t think straight, you can’t remember you name, it could be a sign of an infection or that something else has gotten more serious,” Curry says, noting this applies to the elderly in particular. “If your 75-year-old mother is coughing and sputtering and saying she’s got a fever, she’s achy and cold, it could be the flu, but if she’s out of it or doesn’t seem to be relating properly to world around her, it could be sepsis, a UTI [urinary-tract infection], or pneumonia caused by the flu virus or another virus or bacteria.”
If you do come down with the flu, Curry reminds that symptoms will last longer than those of a cold. While most people get over a cold within a week, the average length of time it takes from the onset of flu symptoms to when you’re feeling better is 10.5 days—with “average” being the key word.