What Is the Common Cold?

Common colds and influenza (flu, for short) share many similarities in terms of symptoms, including sniffling and sneezing. Colds are typically less severe and persist for a shorter duration. A severe cold, however, can turn into something more serious, such as a sinus infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia, without proper care.

If you are unsure whether your symptoms are those of a cold, flu, or something more serious, your FastMed Urgent Care professionals can help you recognize the signs and ensure that you get the care you need quickly.
woman with cold holding thermometer

What Are the Symptoms of a Cold?

Typical symptoms of a head cold include coughing, sneezing, and headache, often accompanied by sore throat, stuffy nose, fever, and fatigue. Although usually mild, symptoms can progress without proper precautions.

For severe cold symptoms or those that last longer than a few days, visit a FastMed Urgent Care. You may be experiencing the flu, a sinus infection, or other more serious illness.

What Causes a Cold?

Colds are often referred to as head colds because most symptoms are felt in the head area. Medically, they are considered upper respiratory viral infections. As suggested, they are caused by several types of viruses and are, therefore, highly contagious. They spread quickly from one person to another.

How to Treat a Cold

If it is simply a head cold, you may want to treat it at home, using the usual cold remedies. Make sure you stay hydrated, gargle with salt water, and get plenty of rest, as extra sleep plays an essential role in common cold treatment. Cold medicines may also help to relieve symptoms.

Over-the-counter cold medicines, like decongestants and antihistamines, can be good options. Other medicines for colds include pain relievers to bring down fever and cough suppressants to control coughing. Take care when using acetaminophen or Tylenol, however, if you are taking other products that contain these, as they can cause liver damage at excessive levels.

Your FastMed Urgent Care is open seven days a week, 365 days a year to help remedy a severe cold. We should be able to provide cold relief by lessening your symptoms.

The Differences Between a Cold and the Flu

The biggest difference between a common cold and the influenza virus is the severity and duration of symptoms. You may experience coughing, sneezing, and headaches with both, but flu symptoms will usually be more severe. Colds also tend to come on at any time of the year, whereas the flu is mostly seasonal. If your symptoms last longer than a few days, you probably have the flu.

Symptom: Common Cold Influenza Virus
Fever Mild Usually severe, though not always
Aches Sometimes Usually
Headache Sometimes Usually
Fatigue Sometimes Usually
Runny Nose Usually Sometimes
Sneezing Usually Sometimes
Sore Throat Usually Sometimes
Cough Mild Severe
Nausea/Diarrhea Unusual Moderate

What Is the Flu?

The flu is short for influenza, an extremely contagious respiratory illness that typically strikes during winter through early spring. It is caused by a group of influenza viruses and develops quickly, unlike colds, which progress more slowly.

What Are Common Flu Symptoms?

The flu shares many symptoms with the common cold. Although symptoms of each may vary by person, both typically cause coughing, congestion, and fever. The biggest difference between the two is the intensity and duration of symptoms. While signs of a cold come on gradually and last only a few days, flu symptoms progress quickly and tend to be more severe. They can last up to seven days or longer.

Common flu symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and soreness
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more likely with Swine flu)

If you’re wondering whether you have a cold or the flu, visit your neighborhood FastMed Urgent Care clinic. We are available for an evaluation seven days a week, including holidays. No appointment is necessary.

How Long Does the Flu Last?

Unlike a cold, which usually lasts a few days, the flu may linger for a week or longer. Make sure you take proper precautions to avoid the flu virus altogether, but, if you do come down with influenza, take appropriate action as soon as you notice symptoms.

How to Treat the Flu

Once you develop flu symptoms, the following flu remedies may help to lessen the severity and duration of the virus:

  • Get enough sleep. Aim for at least nine hours a night; more, if possible. Take naps throughout the day to boost your immune system to help your body recover.
  • Stay hydrated. Hydration is key to kicking an illness. When you’re awake, consume as many fluids as possible, including water, fruit juices, and sports drinks. The less sugar, the better. Also, avoid caffeine, which can be dehydrating.
  • Use a humidifier. Moist air helps to improve symptoms and clear the sinuses.
  • Eat an ice pop. A cold treat can relieve pain when your throat is sore and swollen.
  • Drink something hot. Hot tea or even warm water with lemon and honey will soothe your throat and clear symptoms.
  • Chicken soup. It really works. Chicken soup has proven healing properties.
  • Take medications. Over-the-counter influenza treatments include ibuprofen, antihistamines, decongestants, and cough medicines to relieve symptoms. Make sure you read the labels carefully. When treating a child, pay attention to the type of flu medicine and the dosages.

Flu treatment sometimes calls for prescription medicines. Your local FastMed can help you get the prescription you need, even on weekends or after normal business hours. The sooner you seek treatment, the better your odds for a quick recovery.

Make FastMed Urgent Care Your Flu Shot Clinic

If you haven’t already, get a flu shot at your earliest convenience. Make FastMed your flu shot clinic. All FastMed clinics offer shots throughout flu season, with no appointment necessary.

Also, if you do fall ill, your local FastMed can help. Our friendly staff will treat the flu and prevent its spread—often much faster and less expensively than most emergency rooms can.


A fever is one of the ways your body defends itself. A fever works much like a thermostat to heat up the body, fight unwanted invaders, and drive out infection. Nonetheless, it is always good to know what causes a fever, and when to seek medical attention.

How to Manage a Fever

Your normal body temperature varies throughout the day. It can safely fluctuate between 97 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you start to creep above 99.5 F, you’re getting a fever. Fevers often accompany a cold or a stomach bug, but can also signal a more serious infection, virus, or reaction to medication.

For many fevers, there are things you can do at home to manage your symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest the following to help you feel more comfortable:

  1. Put a cool cloth on your forehead. It may help lower your body temperature. A warm–not hot—bath is also an option.
  2. Take an over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to bring down your fever.
  3. Drink lots of fluids. If you are sweating or overheated, you should consume more fluids than usual to avoid dehydration.

If the fever persists, visit your local FastMed for additional treatment options.

Treating a Fever in Children

Fevers are more serious in children. The CDC recommends that any child under three months who experiences a fever should be seen by a healthcare professional.

Taking Your Child’s Temperature

Although there are a lot of thermometers on the market, the oral or rectal types work best. Devices for taking a temperature in the armpit or on the forehead may not be as accurate. If you use a new device to check your child’s temperature and it indicates a fever, it is best to speak with a healthcare professional, or verify the temperature using a different device.

Protecting Others When You’re Feeling Ill

When you have a fever, it is important to be conscious of the health of others. Try to keep your sickness from spreading, especially to children or the elderly. Limit contact until a doctor determines that you are no longer contagious.

Since most fevers are caused by contagious illnesses, it is best to stay home from work and avoid social functions. Also, the flu virus can survive on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. Clean surfaces around your home thoroughly to avoid passing a virus to others.

FastMed Helps Get You Back on Your Feet

Your local FastMed is available every day of the year to help you get well. You can reach us on holidays or weekends, even when most general practices are closed. In most cases, we can get you in and out faster than an emergency room and at a fraction of the cost. With online check-in, you will be diagnosed and back to being yourself as quickly as possible.

* The content presented on this page is not intended to diagnose health problems or take the place of professional medical care.