Have I got a cold or is it the flu?

With the current epidemic of flu sweeping the country, I regularly get asked what the difference is between a cold and the flu. While both are very similar viruses, generally speaking, it is the severity of the symptoms that will differentiate them.

Cold symptoms tend to come on gradually and will typical affect the upper respiratory tract. Most of the time the symptoms will be mild and will disappear with over the counter medication. These symptoms will include:

A fever with a cold is unusual. A number of patients may develop a chest cold, or inflammation of the airways in the lung. As a result they may develop a cough and sore throat.

Flu is caused by a variation of the influenza virus. Symptoms will come on rapidly and last approximately one week. My general rule of thumb is, you will know you will have the flu because of the severe lack of energy and the need to take to bed.  The best way to avoid the flu is obviously to get the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine should be sought if you are elderly, if you have a chronic illness or if you have small children. It is important to remember that if you are in contact with any of those groups you should also look to get the vaccine so that you do not put them at risk. Ideally, everyone should get the flu vaccine from the start of October.

If you have not received, or do not wish to receive, the flu vaccine then minimising exposure to others with the flu is critical.

Flu symptoms include

Treating a cold or the flu

Antibiotics will not help the primary cause of your cold or flu, as they are both caused by viruses. I would normally recommend taking paracetamol, lots of rest and lots of fluids. There are a number of combination products on the market that are suitable to alieve a number of symptoms at the same time.  Call in and speak with any of our healthcare team and we can recommend one that might be best for you.

Unfortunately, the flu on occasions can become life threatening. This is particularly the case for those with reduced immunity and the elderly. I would normally recommend you consult with your doctor if you experience:

When to resume normal daily activities

The contagious period for flu normally starts the day before symptoms start to appear. Once you develop flu symptoms you will be contagious for 5 to 7 days from when you first started to feel sick. Having developed the flu it is extremely important to prevent further spread of the virus that you stay indoors or in bed for at least a week.

How to prevent spreading colds and flu

Flus and colds are spread through the air, via contaminated surfaces, or by close contact. Therefore to help prevent their spread it is very important that you wash your hands regularly, don’t share your cups, plates and cutlery (particularly with young children). Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing and be careful to keep door-handles and knobs clean. The use of alcohol based hand sanitisers / gels and antibacterial wipes would also be recommended.

Other useful links

For further information please see the following links:


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