Doctors' NotesLifestyle

Cold vs. Flu

Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 


It’s cold and flu season again, and unfortunately a lot of us are coughing, sneezing, and congested. If you’re like most people, you may find it hard to know if the cough and congestion you may be experiencing is related to a common cold, or due to a more serious infection like the flu.

While you may not think it’s important to make the distinction, it actually is best to know what you’re fighting. Although both are viruses, the flu may actually be treated if caught within 48 hours of developing any symptoms.

If you’re not sure if that cough is from a cold or the flu, no worries! We’ve put together a quick way for you to know if you can stick to the chicken soup as a remedy, or if you need to visit your doctor for prescription treatment.


With the flu, the fever is usually raging and greater than 100 degrees. With the common cold, fever is rarely if ever present.


Muscle aches are a hallmark sign of the flu. Achy back, legs, and overall soreness is common and severe. This doesn’t typically happen with a cold virus. If there is any achiness with a common cold, it is usually mild and tolerable.


Because the flu is often associated with high fever, chills are very common. You are unlikely to get chills with a cold.


While you can certainly feel run down with both the common cold and flu virus, fatigue from the flu is often severe. If you are confined to the bed and have any other symptoms, chances are that you may be dealing with the flu.

Sudden Onset

This is an important distinction. Symptoms of the cold viruses tend to start out slowly. You may have a sore throat for a day or two, then develop a runny nose, and the symptoms gradually begin to worsen. Those infected with the flu are often feeling fine, when suddenly they develop a fever, aches, chills, and congestion all at once. If you woke up well, but by midday feel like you are in the fight of your life, it may just be the flu.

If you happen to develop flu-like symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor immediately. The window of opportunity for treatment is just 48 hours. While common treatments don’t cure the flu, they can lessen the intensity and shorten the duration of symptoms by 2-3 days.

Over 200,000 people each year are hospitalized due to the flu. Make sure you know the facts and can spot the difference.

It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors:

Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!