How to Tell the Difference Between Common Cold and Flu in Children

Cold vs Flu in Children: Difference, Symptoms & Prevention

Chances of stuffy nose and sore throat usually get higher when the temperature shifts. Parents often treat these symptoms as a common cold, but sometimes they may come out as a case of flu. The symptoms of common cold and flu are very similar, but there is a fine line between the two. So, how do you tell the difference? Let’s find out!

Cold vs Flu

Common Cold

The common cold is a viral infection, also known as upper respiratory infection (URI), which is caused by many types of viruses. It affects the upper respiratory tract, including the nose, throat, and sinuses. There is no specific test required for the common cold.

With the cases of common cold, young children may rub their noses frequently and eat a little less than usual. Older children may complain of breathlessness and stuffiness in their noses.


The flu is a viral infection, also known as influenza, caused by only a specific type of virus—the influenza virus. It affects the upper respiratory tract, including the nose, lungs, throat, and sinuses. Unlike the common cold, the flu can lead to severe complications in immunosuppressed and young children, especially those under five years of age.

Children with the flu generally get miserable and fussy and lose their appetite. They may complain of throat ache, tiredness, and loss of appetite as their throats may hurt while drinking or eating.

How Does It Start?

Common Cold

Most cases of cold start with a sore or scratchy throat and the feeling of stuffiness followed by sneezing, cough and a mild fever on or about the third day.


The flu typically starts more rapidly and severely than the cold. The first signs of flu are high fever, chills, and muscle aches. The flu is comparatively more uncomfortable than the common cold.

Symptoms of Cold and Flu

Although the symptoms of the common cold and flu are similar, the severity and onset of both are different. A cold may last 3-10 days, while the flu may last 7-14 days, and the symptoms may continue to last till up to three weeks.

Cold Flu
Sore throat Chills
Runny nose High Fever
Sneezing Cough
Stuffiness Headaches
Mild cough Muscle aches
  Runny or stuffy nose
  Sore throat


There is no specific vaccine for the common cold. However, there is an annual flu shot available for the prevention of the flu which is recommended to be taken every year for children below five years of age.


  1. Receive your flu vaccination annually.
  2. Frequently wash your hands and use an alcohol-based sanitiser if anyone in the house catches the flu or cold.
  3. Avoid close contact or the use of personal belongings of the sick individual.
  4. Disinfect common surfaces, such as doorknobs, telephones, mobile phones, etc., at regular intervals with sanitiser and antiseptic wipes.
  5. Keep yourself hydrated.
  6. Get enough sleep and eat healthy foods that boost immunity.

If you are still left with any doubts, our expert will have you understand more facts about the common cold and influenza with their scientific and easy-to-understand explanation using this video.

When to Call the Doctor

These symptoms could be the sign of a serious illness and require immediate doctor intervention:

  • Trouble in breathing
  • Unable to drink fluids
  • Frequent fever after the respite period
  • A change in the skin colour
  • Severe vomiting
  • Severe headache or belly pain

Since children are in an immunity-building stage, they are more prone to contracting colds and the flu. Plenty of fluids, rest, and proper hygiene practices are enough to tackle the symptoms of the common cold as well as the flu. You can get more information on the flu vaccination for children and the proper timeline on this vaccination tracker by GSK – MyVaccinationHub. If you have any doubts or need advice on the matter, do consult your paediatrician.

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Issued in public interest by GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals Limited. Dr. Annie Besant Road, Worli, Mumbai 400 030, India.
Information appearing in this material is for general awareness only. Nothing contained in this material constitutes medical advice. Please consult your doctor for any medical queries, any question or concern you may have regarding your condition. The disease list indicated for vaccination is not complete, please consult your child’s Paediatrician for the complete vaccination schedule.
NP-IN-FLT-OGM-220006, DoP Jun 2022


Also Read:

Cold in Children – Causes, Signs & Treatment
Home Remedies for Cold and Flu in Babies & Kids

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