Runny Nose Rundown: The Cold versus the Flu

By Emily Stewart.

Published on October 30th, 2017

You know the signs: runny nose, sore throat, general fatigue, thirst, maybe a cough. You're coming down with something, but what? It is difficult to determine the difference between the cold and flu. While they carry similar signs, the cold is a natural respiratory illness caused by a less intense and entirely different virus than the flu. If you don't treat your symptoms well, the cold can develop into the flu and the flu into much more serious issues. Don't let that runny nose run away from you. Learn the difference between your symptoms and how to manage them.

Someone who's tired.
Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash.

The Common Cold

Cold symptoms are generally less intense than the flu, although you're more likely to have a runny nose with the cold than the flu. With the cold you're less likely to suffer aches and pains. Other cold symptoms include a sore throat, nasal congestion, cough, mild headache, and sneezing. You can expect to recover in two to seven days. If your symptoms go untreated or get worse, you might contract an ear infection or the flu.

Flu Symptoms

Influenza symptoms resemble cold symptoms to a higher degree. For instance, people with the flu will have a higher fever, very painful sore throat, acute sinus congestion, extreme tiredness, and muscle/ body aches. Furthermore, people with the flu may suffer vomiting, diarrhea, and pain in their abdomen. If you have difficulty breathing and shortness of breath, then you likely have the flu. Since a cold requires something like seven days to abate, continued and numerous cold symptoms lasting longer than a week are a sign of the flu. If you're feeling uncharacteristically confused or dizzy, beware: you could have a bad case of the flu.

There may be serious health ramifications if the signs and symptoms of influenza are not treated. Pneumonia, bacterial infections, bronchitis and painful ear infections are all complications. Typically, a well-treated flu requires around 14 days recovery time.

General Remedies

Garlic is your friend.
Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash.

The best cure for a cold, and really any other virus, is listening to your body. Some people find that light cardiovascular exercise can help them “unclog” lungs and sinuses; other people feel too fatigued for movement and only need rest. Some people crave easy-to-digest food, like toast and chocolate; others are not hungry. When sick, your body needs all the resources it can get. Since no two bodies are the same, it's your duty to heed its call. Don't worry about your waistline or deadlines; rest, listen, and repair.

In addition to rest, try these other natural flu remedies.

Eat garlic. Its antimicrobial qualities help your immune system metabolise toxins.

Stay hydrated. Try sparkling water, coconut water, or electrolyte beverages if you're not inclined to drink. Be careful with caffeine, as it is naturally dehydrating.

Drink warm liquids. Nettle tea, ginger tea, lemon tea, and green tea are all immune assistors. Even a cup of hot water with honey, ginger, and a lemon is incredibly soothing. While it's not advised to drink alcohol, many people recommend a dash of whiskey in their water. If you drink coffee, be sure to match it with as much water (see the note above regarding caffeine). For a more satiating drink, try bone broth soup. While still packed with protein and minerals, it is easier for your body to digest than meat.

A primary vitamin C source.
Photo by Linh Pham on Unsplash.

Find Vitamin C. Vitamins serve their purpose best in food-form, rather than supplements. Some studies show that vitamin c is much less effective once you're already sick. At this point, help your body by eating your vitamin c with the natural sugars in fresh fruit. If you've got a weak immune system, consider taking cranberry supplements on a daily basis.

Get spicy. So long as your belly can tolerate it, add herbs and spices to your food. Turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, onions, chili flakes, and pepper are all packed with unique micronutrients that help your cells function more effectively. Apple cider vinegar is a probiotic cure-all that can be mixed with spices for better digestion (it's one of a few natural remedies for a sore throat, too).

Go herbal. Whether you're steeping them in a tea or adding them to your meal, herbs are a powerful way to add vitamins and minerals to your body. Try nettle leaf for hydration; elderberry for immune support; ginger in your bath for an achy body; yarrow for your kidneys and endocrine system; and peppermint for your fever.

A steamy bath.
Photo by Steven Diaz on Unsplash.

Get steamy. This age-old trick can contain any of the above elements dependent on your symptoms. Boil water and remove from heat. Add any of the above herbs and spices, along with thyme, rosemary, and oregano. Cool for five minutes. Drape a towel over your head as you lean over the pot. Breathe the steam for 15 minutes.

What to do for a sore throat

Since most of us cannot afford to stop communicating, how to treat a sore throat is of utmost importance. Luckily, there are many home-based sore throat remedies.

Make a serum. Grind red chili flakes, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil into a serum. Dip the back of a spoon into it. Place the spoon as far toward the back of your throat you can without triggering your gag reflex. Swallow the mixture only after it's generated a soothing warmth near your vocal cords.

Apples are your friends.
Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash.

Chew herbs. Chewing raw garlic delivers antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral micronutrients directly to your throat. Raw cardamom and fennel seeds also offer soothing qualities.

Drinks for a sore throat. Dissolve something like a teaspoon of salt into a 16-ounce glass of water. Gargle the water. Add other ingredients, like sage and echinacea, as necessary.

Suck it up. If you've not got time to make one of the above remedies, purchase over-the-counter throat lozenges for throat pain. The sucking motion will continuously generate new saliva in your mouth, helping to clear mucus from the back of the throat.

Blocked Nose Remedy

Dealing with a blocked stuffy nose is frustrating; it makes speaking and sleeping and most everything else difficult. It's best to start using a nasal spray as soon as cold symptoms show. According to a 2009 study, over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays are shown to kill common cold viruses at their inception. Unfortunately, many people suffer from a post nasal drip even after their flu and cold have subsided. Post nasal drip remedies like nasal irrigation can relieve symptoms of allergies and sore throat. An over-the-counter saline nasal spray can be used multiple times a day for a natural sinus cleanse. If you're unable to purchase an over-the-counter nasal spray, simply drop saline water into your nose and use a bulb or syringe to suck it, and its mucus-ish hanger-ons, right out.

That looks like a stuffed nose.
Photo by Yamon Figurs on Unsplash.

Whether you've got the cold or flu, it's of utmost importance to treat all symptoms in the most holistic and comfortable way possible. Take time to rest and prepare the right concoction of store-bought and homeopathic solutions that boost your immune system. Otherwise, you'll suffer more intense and prolonged consequences.

About the author

Emily Stewart calls herself a “Pi-Fit-Yogi,” teaching yoga, Pilates, and blended classes all around the world. You can reach her at

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