Does My Child Have a Cold or the Flu?

Even though colds and the flu share some of the same symptoms, the viruses that cause them are different. Generally a child with the flu will appear to be much sicker than a child with a cold. Most kids get from 8 to 10 colds before their second birthday. This chart can help you tell them apart.

Cold Flu
What it is
Cold
A cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract (includes the nose, sinuses, and throat). The cold can be caused by many viruses.
Flu
The flu is a viral infection caused by only a few specific viruses that affect the upper respiratory tract (includes nose, sinuses, and throat).
How it starts
Cold
Most colds start with a sore throat and some stuffiness followed by other symptoms like cough and a mild fever on or about the third day.
Flu
Flu generally starts more suddenly and severely than a cold, with a higher fever and chills. A child with the flu feels much more achy and uncomfortable.
Symptoms
Cold
Sore Throat
Runny or Stuffy nose
Mild Cough
Sneezing
Mild Fever
Flu
Fever and chills
Body aches and pains Weakness and fatigue
Sore throat
Runny or Stuffy nose
Cough (usually dry)
How long it lasts
Cold
A child usually has a cold for 3-10 days.
Flu
The flu lasts 7 to 14 days and symptoms may linger for up to 3 weeks.
How your child may feel
Cold
A younger child may rub their nose frequently and may eat less than usual.

An older child may complain that they can’t breathe or that their nose is stuffy.

Flu
A younger child generally seems sick, fussy, sleepy, and less hungry than normal.

An older child may be very tired and uncomfortable. They may complain that their throat hurts, and may refuse food and liquids because their throat may hurt more.