Cold & Flu

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Prepare to battle against cold and flu

Colds and flu symptoms can strike anyone, anytime

When cold and flu season strikes, sore throats, runny noses, headaches and cold & flu pains can leave you feeling less than your best.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms, causes and treatment for cold and flu.

What is the difference between cold & flu?

Cold and flu are both viral infections which can affect the nose, throat, sinuses, and airways, but they are not the same. While cold symptoms can leave you feeling unwell, flu symptoms are usually more severe.

Symptoms of cold

Cold symptoms usually appear gradually over a few days or so. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s likely you have caught a common cold:

  • Runny nose
  • Blocked nose (congestion)
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • A slight temperature
  • Headache
  • Pressure in your ears and face

Symptoms of flu

Flu symptoms are often more severe than a common cold and can affect your whole body. As well as the symptoms listed above, if you have the flu you might also experience:

  • Sudden fever
  • Sweating and shivering
  • Aching muscles and joints
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry, chesty cough

How long do cold & flu symptoms last?

In most cases it takes a few days to fully recover from a cold, however some people might find symptoms linger for up to a week. If you have had a cold for longer than 14 days, it’s a good idea to book an appointment with your GP to make sure there isn’t an underlying condition causing your symptoms.

Symptoms of flu can appear very suddenly, sometimes within a day, and can take a bit longer to clear up than a common cold. Most people recover within a week, although you may feel tired. If you have had the flu for longer than a week it’s best to book an appointment with your doctor.

How to tell the difference between cold & flu

Although cold and flu share some of the same symptoms, flu is not just a ‘bad cold’ and can be quite serious, especially for the very young or the elderly. In some cases, it can be difficult to tell whether you have the flu or a particularly bad cold. Key differences between cold and flu include: 



 Symptoms appear gradually

Symptoms can appear very suddenly

 You’ll feel unwell, but should be able to carry on with your normal day to day activities

You can feel exhausted and unable to go about your usual day

 Mainly affects your nose and throat

Often includes fever, fatigue and aching muscles

 May have a cough

Chesty cough

What causes cold & flu?

Cold and flu are both viral infections which can affect the nose, throat, sinuses, and airways. While some symptoms are similar, cold and flu are caused by different viruses.

The common cold is one of the most prevalent illnesses, affecting adults on average 2-4 times a year. Sometimes it can feel as though you have caught one cold after another; that’s because there are over 200 different viruses responsible for causing the common cold. The good news is once you’ve fought off a cold due to a particular virus, you’re unlikely to catch it again.

There are fewer viruses which can cause the flu but there are many different strains of these flu viruses. You can catch flu any time of the year, but it's more common in winter, which is why it's sometimes referred to as "seasonal flu”.

How do we catch cold & flu?

The viruses responsible for cold and flu are contained in the tiny droplets of mucus which are coughed or sneezed out by someone who has cold or flu. Usually a person is contagious a few days before their cold symptoms appear, up until all of their symptoms have gone.

The most common ways cold and flu viruses are spread include:

  • Inhaling tiny droplets of fluid containing the cold or flu virus e.g. when an infected person sneezes or coughs without covering their nose or mouth
  • Touching a contaminated object or surface and then touching your nose or eyes
  • Touching the skin of someone who has infected droplets on their skin and then touching your nose or eyes e.g. if an infected person sneezes or coughs into their hand and doesn’t wash their hands

Cold & flu remedies

While there’s no cure for common cold or flu, you should be able to manage your symptoms at home. There are a number or things you can do to help relieve symptoms and get yourself on the road to recovery.

Get plenty of rest

When you are unwell with cold or flu it’s important to give your body time to recover so make sure you get plenty of rest. You might be tempted to rush back to work but try not to overdo it because apart from prolonging your own recovery, you risk spreading the virus to others.

Stay hydrated

If you have a fever, you may need extra fluids to avoid dehydration. Drinking plenty of water is important to replace any fluids you might have lost through sweating or having a runny nose.

Eat a healthy diet

It’s perfectly normal to lose your appetite for a few days when you have a cold or the flu. You shouldn’t force yourself to eat if you're not hungry, but once your appetite returns eating a low-fat, high-fibre diet including lots of fruit and vegetables may help your recovery.

Gargle with salt water

A sore throat is common symptom of a cold. Some people find that gargling with a homemade mouthwash of salty water can help to ease the pain.

Over the counter painkillers

Pain relievers with a decongestant, such as Nurofen Cold & Flu Film – Coated Tablets* can be taken to help provide effective temporary relief from the symptoms associated with cold and flu. It contains both a pain reliever and a decongestant, providing dual relief for pain and congestion. Always read the label.

Some cold and flu medicines shouldn’t be given to young children, pregnant or breastfeeding women or people with certain medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, glaucoma, high blood pressure, asthma). Always ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice first.           

How to prevent catching or spreading cold & flu

Prevention is often just as important as the cure - and this is definitely the case when it comes to cold and flu. Here are a few tips to help you prevent catching (or spreading) the cold and flu virus.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle

Ensuring your body’s natural defences are in top condition makes a big difference in the fight against cold and flu. Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep can make a big difference to your overall health.

Wash your hands

Washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water, particularly before eating or after blowing your nose, will help avoid spreading the viruses responsible for cold and flu.

Catch and bin it

If you do have cold or flu, always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and put it in the bin straight away.

Don’t share with someone who is unwell

Avoid sharing household items, such as cups, plates, or utensils, with anyone who has cold or flu.

Get the flu jab

The flu vaccine can help to protect you from cold and flu. It is available from GPs, pharmacies or occupation health departments if you fall into one of the following groups:

  • Aged 65 and over
  • Pregnant women
  • Children and adults with an underlying health condition (such as long-term heart or lung disease)
  • Children and adults with weakened immune systems

When to seek medical help

If you are suffering from cold or flu you should consult a doctor if:

  • Your cold symptoms don’t improve after 2 weeks
  • Your flu symptoms don’t improve after a week
  • Your symptoms suddenly get worse
  • You’re having difficulty breathing, or have chest pain
  • You suffer from a medical condition such as asthma or diabetes which is making your flu worse
  • You have a very high fever
  • You cough up blood-stained phlegm or have severe swelling of lymph nodes.

Additionally, if you have the flu, you may want to consider visiting your GP if:

  • You're 65 years of age or over
  • You're pregnant

*Nurofen Cold & Flu Film – Coated Tablets contain Ibuprofen 200mg and Pseudoephedrine 30mg. For the symptomatic relief of colds & flu. Always read the label.