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Common cold

The common cold generally involves a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing. You may also have a sore throat, cough, headache, or other symptoms.

Learn more about the common cold in our health encyclopedia.

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Influenza and flu shots

Commonly known as the flu, influenza is a respiratory (nose, throat, lungs) illness cause by influenza viruses (germs). An annual flu shot is one of the best ways to avoid a bad case of the flu.

Learn more about influenza and flu shots.

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Fever is the temporary increase in the body's temperature, in response to some disease or illness.

Learn more about fever in our health encyclopedia.

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A headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck.

Learn more about headache in our health encyclopedia.

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Stuffy nose

A stuffy nose can be due to colds, allergies, sinus infections or the flu. The sensation of a stuffy nose occurs when the membranes that line the nose become swollen.

Learn more about runny and stuffy nose in our health encyclopedia.

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Sore throat

A sore throat is discomfort, pain, or scratchiness in the throat. A sore throat often makes it painful to swallow.

Learn more about sore throat in our health encyclopedia.

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Coughing is an important way to keep your throat and airways clear. However, excessive coughing may mean you have an illness.

Learn more about coughs in our health encyclopedia.

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An earache can be a sharp, dull, or burning pain in one or both ears.

Learn more about earache in our health encyclopedia.

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Bronchitis is inflammation of the main air passages to the lungs.

Learn more about bronchitis in our health encyclopedia.

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Pneumonia is a respiratory condition in which there is inflammation of the lung.

Learn more about pneumonia in our health encyclopedia.

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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common virus that leads to mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older healthy children. It can be more serious in young babies.

Learn more about RSV in our health encyclopedia.

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Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The coughing can make it hard to breathe. A deep "whooping" sound is often heard when the patient tries to take a breath.

Learn more about whooping cough in our health encyclopedia.

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Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a serious form of pneumonia caused by a virus. Infection with the SARS virus results in severe breathing difficulty and sometimes death.

Learn more about SARS in our health encyclopedia.

Do you have a cold or the flu?

These general guidelines can help determine if you have the common cold or the flu.






102 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit; lasts three to four days




general aches, pains


usual; often severe

extremely tired


yes; often early on

runny or stuffy nose






sore throat



chest discomfort, cough

mild to moderate; hacking cough

common; can become severe

complications (problems)

sinus congestion or earache

bronchitis or pneumonia; can be life-threatening


Use good respiratory and hand hygiene to stop the spread of germs.

Get a seasonal flu vaccine each year, and use good respiratory and hand hygiene.


Consider over-the-counter medicine for temporary relief of symptoms.

Ask your doctor about antiviral medicines if you are pregnant or if you have a chronic (long-lasting) illness.

Stop the spread of germs that make you and others sick

Get a flu shot.
Annual influenza vaccinations are available by appointment at most Allina clinics.
Schedule flu shots online with MyChart.

Serious respiratory illness like influenza (the flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough (pertussis), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are spread by:

  • coughing or sneezing
  • having unclean hands.

To help stop the spread of germs:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
  • Put the used tissue in the waste basket.

If you are coughing or sneezing while in a hospital or clinic, you may be asked to put on a surgical mask to protect others.

Washing your hands is the easiest way to reduce the risk of spreading germs that cause infections.

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
  • Wash your hands after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or before eating.
  • If you cannot get to a sink, clean your hands with a waterless alcohol handrub.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Do You Have a Cold or the Flu?, ic-ahc-14554
Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department
First Published: 09/25/2009
Last Reviewed: 07/15/2014