Cold and flu

Be alert to these signs of the flu

Colds and the flu have some things in common. They both affect the lungs, are caused by viruses and share some symptoms.

Yearly shots are the single best way to protect against the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The flu can be serious. So for safety’s sake, it also pays to recognize the difference between colds and flu (influenza).

Cracking a cold case

In general, the common cold tends to be milder than the flu. Symptoms often come on gradually — and may include:

  • Coughing
  • Scratchy throat
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy or runny nose

5 signals it’s the flu

Like a cold, the flu can cause congestion, sneezing, coughing and a sore throat. But with the flu, the illness tends to come on more suddenly — and to make you feel much worse.

In addition, certain symptoms are more likely with the flu, including:

  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache

Seeking medical care.

Most people recover from a cold when the virus runs its course. The flu, on the other hand, can turn into a more serious problem, like pneumonia.

Keep in mind: A doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to help shorten the flu and reduce the risk of severe illness — particularly for people at high risk of complications. Those most at risk include younger children, older adults, and people who are pregnant or who have certain chronic health conditions.

If this may include you or someone in your family, tell your doctor promptly if you suspect the flu — ideally within 2 days of when symptoms start.

And whatever your risk, seek medical care right away if you notice potential signs of severe flu, such as trouble breathing, chest pain or dizziness.

What to do next

Have a question about cold or flu symptoms? Call the number on your health plan ID card to speak with a nurse.1

Need care quickly? Explore your care options — and potentially save time and money.


  1. Check your benefit plan to see what services may be covered.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Food and Drug Administration