Here's How To Tell If Your Nasty Cold Is Actually The Flu — And How To Feel Better Faster

by Michelle Gross

If you've been feeling a bit under the weather these past few weeks, well, join the club. We're deep in the throes of flu season and according to recent reports, this year has been especially brutal this year. According to a recent statement made by the Center for Disease Control, “this is the first year we had the entire continental U.S. be the same color on the graph, meaning there’s widespread activity in all of the continental U.S. at this point.” Even though the flu may be widespread, the common cold is also rearing its ugly head, and there's a chance a nasty cold could look pretty similar. So you're in either one of these two camps and can't tell if you have a cold or a flu, listen up, because while the initial symptoms are similar, there are a few telltale signs to tell them apart.

"It can be hard to tell between having a cold and having the flu, because a lot of the symptoms like sneezing, coughing, tend to overlap," Dr. Jennifer Caudle tells Bustle. "The flu comes on rather quickly and symptoms seem to be more severe than a cold. Things like high fever and muscle aches and pains tend to hit you like a bus and it just wipes people out."

According to the CDC, while most people with the flu have mild illness and don't need medical care or antiviral drugs, they recommend that people who do get sick with flu stay home and avoid contact with others "except to get medical care." If you feel short of breath or have a fever of higher than 103 degrees, you should make sure to contact your doctor.

In addition to staying home, Dr. Caudle said it's not too late to get your flu shot. "October to May is flu season with the height of it being December through February, so we're right in the thick of it right now," Dr. Caudle says. "So it's definitely not too late to get your flu shot if you haven't already." The other important piece of advice, according to Dr. Caudle, is to wash your hands."This couldn't be more important right now, but you need to wash your hands, and often," Dr. Caudle said. "If you sneeze or cough, sneeze or cough into your elbow or into tissue. Sneezing on your hands puts other people at risk. Also disinfecting surfaces can be very important."

So if you're feeling a bit under the weather and not sure whether you're in the early flu stages or just fighting off a regular cold, read on to see a few of this season's most typical flu-like symptoms. Don't forget to wash your hands!

1. You're Super Tired

According to, "Sudden, excessive fatigue is one of the earliest signs of the flu, and it may appear before other symptoms. Fatigue is also a symptom of the common cold, but it’s usually more severe with the flu. Extreme weakness and tiredness may interfere with your normal activities, so it’s important that you limit activity and allow your body to rest. Take a few days off from work or school and stay in bed."

2. All Over Body Aches & Chills

"Body aches and chills are also common flu symptoms," according to "If you’re coming down with the flu virus, you may mistakenly blame body aches on something else, such as a recent workout. Body aches can manifest anywhere in the body, especially in the head, back, and legs. Chills may also accompany body aches and the flu may cause chills even before a fever develops."

3. Cough

Coughing is one of those symptoms that can be confused with a regular cold, but according the CDC, there is a difference between a little light coughing and flu-like coughing depending on the severity of the cough.

4. Sore Throat

"In the earliest stages of the flu, your throat may feel scratchy and irritated," according to "You may also feel a strange sensation when you swallow food or drinks. If you have a sore throat, it will likely get worse as the virus progresses." So what can you do to minimize the damage? Healthline says to stock up on caffeine-free tea, chicken soup, and water. "You can also gargle with 8 oz. of warm water, 1 tsp. of salt, and 1/2 tsp. of baking soda."

5. Fever

According to, "a fever is a sign that your body is fighting off an infection. Flu-related fevers are typically 100˚F (38˚C) or higher. While a fever is a common symptom in early stages of the flu, not everyone with the flu will have a fever."

6. Stomach issues Issues

While you're already feeling in the dumps, to add a little insult to injury, one of the worst side-effects of the flu are all the gastrointestinal problems you may experience. Diarrhea and vomiting, stomach pain — the worst. While everyone's bodies are different and symptoms vary across the board, whatever you do, just make sure you're staying hydrated, no matter how curbed your appetite may be. "Drinking liquids and staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do when you're sick," Dr. Caudle tells Bustle.

There's nothing worse than being sick, but if your symptoms continue to get worse or if you're unable to eat, or have severe or persistent vomiting than you should seek out medical attention according to the CDC. For a full list of symptoms or for more information, check out the CDC's Flu Treatment info here.