How do I Tell the Difference Between the Flu and Pneumonia?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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With many similar symptoms, it may be difficult to tell the difference between the onset of flu and pneumonia. Even with careful examination, the early signs of pneumonia may be indistinguishable from a flu or cold. Complicating the matter is the fact that pneumonia can develop as a complication of a bad flu, though this is relatively rare. Knowing the warning signs of pneumonia can help distinguish crucial differences between flu and pneumonia.

Flu and pneumonia may both be caused by infection with a virus, although pneumonia can also be caused by a bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection. Pneumonia, however, is an infection of the lungs, and is almost always tied to cough, shortness of breath, and slowly worsening symptoms of all kinds. Flu is typically related to a viral infection in the nose or throat, and usually resolves in about a week without medical treatment.

The severity of respiratory symptoms may be a crucial component in telling the difference between flu and pneumonia. People with a flu may have dry or productive coughs, but coughing is generally mild. With pneumonia, coughing is persistent and often accompanied by pain in the lungs. One of the most important keys to telling the differences between these illnesses is whether the person is having increasingly more trouble breathing, which indicates pneumonia is a more likely diagnosis. Any signs of circulation loss, such as a blue tinge to the fingernails, should be met with immediate medical treatment.


A fever may be a misleading symptom when distinguishing between flu and pneumonia. Many people with influenza develop a high fever that may last several days, but those with bacterial pneumonia may also suffer from this symptom. Viral pneumonia, on the other hand, is associated with a persistent low-grade fever.

Most types of flu, though not all, will resolve with home care consisting of rest, fluids, and nutrition. People may also choose to get a seasonal flu vaccine, which can protect against some forms of viral infections. Flu can become quite serious, and even life-threatening, depending on the strain of virus involved. If an illness has not significantly improved after seven days, some experts recommend seeking a doctor's advice. There are some anti-viral drugs now available in many areas that can successfully treat certain kinds of flu.

Pneumonia can be extremely serious and even deadly in some cases. Bacterial pneumonia can frequently be treated and cured through antibiotics, but viral pneumonia does not have a medical cure. People believed to have viral pneumonia are sometimes admitted to the hospital for careful monitoring, since the diminishing ability to breathe and circulate oxygenated blood can endanger organs. If a person suspects that he or she has pneumonia, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.


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Post 2
@Wisedly33 -- I hear you. The one time I had the flu, my joints hurt so, I thought I was going to pass out. I survived on sports drinks and NSAIDs for the pain and fever.

Thank goodness, I've never had pneumonia, although I have had a couple of bouts of bronchitis that made me wonder if pneumonia was just around the corner. Fortunately, the antibiotics kept it from heading in that direction. All three rounds of them.

Flu is no fun, though. At all.

Post 1

One big determining factor between flu and pneumonia is joint pain and skin sensitivity. When I had the flu, it seemed like my hair hurt! My bones just ached. This usually doesn't occur with pneumonia.

I never had too many respiratory symptoms when I had the flu. Mostly, I ran a high fever, had a splitting headache and generally felt like complete crap for a week.

My doctor said he wasn't concerned about pneumonia since I didn't have any respiratory symptoms.

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