Influenza and colds have similar symptoms and are therefore difficult to distinguish. However, there are substantial differences between the two pathological conditions, which should be taken into account to determine the best method of treatment.


What is flu and what are its symptoms?

Influenza is an infectious disease, caused by a virus. It occurs with fever, muscle and joint pain, nasal congestion, and headache. Influenza has a high infectivity, combined with the ability of the virus to mutate from season to season. In the most vulnerable categories, such as the elderly and patients with chronic diseases, such as COPD, heart disease and diabetes, influenza can have serious complications.


The most frequent symptoms of influenza include:

  • Chills
  • Nasal congestion
  • Joint pains
  • Muscular pains
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Exhaustion
  • Sweating
  • Dry cough


What is a cold and what are its symptoms?

The common cold (also known as viral rhinosinusitis) is probably the most widespread disease in the world. It consists of viral inflammation of the upper airways, and involves mainly nose and sinuses as well as the paranasal pharynx. Generally, it heals within 7-10 days. Fever is usually absent or very low. The microenvironment that forms in the nose and paranasal sinuses with lowering of pH and slowing of mucociliary clearance promotes the proliferation of bacteria, which colonize the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract. Thus, bacterial infection can replace viral infection. In this case, the symptoms are prolonged beyond two weeks, and the mucous secretions are transformed from clear to viscous or yellowish.


The symptoms consist of:

  • Fever (only rarely)
  • Sore throat
  • Hyper-production of mucus
  • Tearing
  • Headaches
  • Sneezing
  • Dry cough


Influenza and colds, how to treat them?

Treatment for influenza consists of a bed rest period and the intake of fluids to replenish the fluids lost because of the fever. The use of drugs should be limited to analgesics (to limit muscular and skeletal pain), antipyretics (to lower the temperature), and antibiotics (only on medical indication, in suspicion of bacterial infections).

In the event of a cold, nasal rinsing with saline solution can be carried out; nasal decongestants and cough syrups can be used. Analgesics such as paracetamol are useful when the cold is associated with headaches.


How to prevent colds and flu?

Both in the case of a cold and in the case of influenza, prevention is essential. Influenza vaccines stimulate the production of specific antibodies and reduce the risk of illness. They should be repeated annually, especially in high-risk categories. To prevent the onset of flu and cold, it is also advisable to wash your hands frequently, cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, and avoid crowded places as much as possible.