Respiratory Infections: Difference Between Cold, Flu, COVID, and RSV

Respiratory Infections: Difference Between Cold, Flu, COVID, and RSV

We are in the midst of autumn, and winter is just around the corner, which signals the start of the dreaded flu season. But influenza is not the only virus you need to worry about; the common cold, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19 will make a strong comeback in the coming months.

All viral respiratory infections share symptoms, so the challenge is differentiating them and knowing when to seek medical help.

At Supreme Care ER in Houston, the finest emergency room in Cypress Texas, we’re happy to provide you with the emergency care that you need to help prevent an escalation and complication of respiratory infections Respiratory Infections: Difference Between Cold, Flu, COVID, and RSV.

Respiratory Infections Viruses Difference Between Cold, Flu, COVID, and RSV

What Are Respiratory Infections?

Respiratory tract infections can affect any part of your respiratory system, including your nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and airways.

Different viruses cause most respiratory infections but can also result from exposure to bacteria or fungi.


Respiratory Infections, Causes, Symptoms, and When to Go to The ER


Common Cold

The most common virus that causes the common cold is the rhinovirus. Although having a cold is an inconvenience, symptoms are usually mild and subside on their own within a week.

Cold Symptoms

  • A general feeling of being unwell
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Slight fever
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Mild muscle or body aches
  • Headache

When to Go to the ER

In most cases, you can treat a cold at home with over-the-counter medication. However, please seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Your symptoms last more than ten days and are not getting better
  • You develop severe symptoms
  • Your infant has a fever, or they are lethargic
Respiratory Infections Cold

The Flu

Get to Know About the Flu


The influenza virus is why you came down with the flu. Different virus strains arise yearly, which is why you should get a yearly flu vaccine.


Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms can closely resemble a cold but tend to develop quicker and are generally more severe.

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Moderate to severe muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue, feeling tired for no reason
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever, chills
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (especially in children)
respiratory infections the flu

Possible Complications from The Flu

Your symptoms should improve or disappear within one to two weeks. However, it’s not uncommon to develop complications from the flu, which, if left untreated, could become life-threatening.

Common complications include:

  • Sinus infections
  • Ear infections
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Asthma flare-ups
  • Secondary infections
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome – a life-threatening condition
  • Brain or heart muscle inflammation

Multi-organ failure

When to Go to the ER

Most healthy individuals should be able to fight off the flu at home. However, patients with underlying health issues, the elderly, and small children may need emergency care if their symptoms worsen or if they develop complications.

Warning Signs in Children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Become lethargic or unresponsive
  • Being unusually irritable
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Unable to eat
  • Have no tears when crying
  • Develop a fever with a rash

Warning Signs in Adults

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Pain or pressure in the chest area or abdomen
  • Sudden unexplained confusion
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Have flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with a fever and a worse cough
  • Severe or persistent vomiting


Get to Know About COVID-19


The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) is responsible for the illness known as COVID-19.

This condition is highly contagious and has a higher mortality rate, making it a significant concern.

COVID-19 Symptoms

There are many variants of the SARS-CoV2 virus, and each cause specific symptoms; however, the most common symptoms include the following:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever or chills
  • Severe fatigue
  • Moderate to severe muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

When to Go to the ER

  • Trouble breathing
  • Bluish coloring on the lips or face
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Get to Know About RSV

The respiratory syncytial virus is the highly contagious virus that causes the illness that bares the same name.

Nearly 90% of children are infected with the RSV virus before they turn two years old. For most healthy adults and older children, RSV is a mild illness that produces similar symptoms to the common cold.

However, RSV can cause serious and even life-threatening lower respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchiolitis in infants, seniors, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Symptoms of RSV

  • Phlegmy cough – with green, yellow, or gray mucus
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing or noticeable pauses between breaths
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Dehydration (little or no urine, no tears, cool, dry skin)

When to Go to the ER

Please call 911 or seek emergency medical attention immediately should your child show any of the following signs:

  • Difficulty breathing or very fast breathing
  • Blueish coloring in their lips, face, or fingernails
  • Extreme drowsiness, lethargy, or doesn’t interact in a usual way

We Are Here to Help

If you are experiencing persistent or severe respiratory symptoms, please don’t hesitate to come to our ER for an evaluation and treatment.

Our expert doctors and caring staff are here 24/7 to provide a helping hand with all your medical emergency needs.

It’s vital to keep a list of hospitals and ER centers near your home in case you suffer a medical emergency.

At Supreme Care ER, our doors remain open to provide care for you and your family.
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