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What are Colds and Flu and How to Treat Them

  • Cold and flu symptoms can be similar, but they are different ailments.
  • Cold symptoms appear gradually and tend to affect just your nose and throat
  • Flu affects other parts of the body and makes you too wiped out to do everyday activities

Is it a cold? Is it flu? It’s easy to get confused as the symptoms of these common winter ailments are often similar.1 The main difference is that cold symptoms appear gradually and tend to affect just your nose and throat, while flu hits you suddenly, affects other parts of the body and makes you too wiped out to do everyday activities.2

If you have a cold you can expect to have symptoms for about a week.2It’s less easy to say how long flu will last, but if you are young and healthy you can expect to feel poorly for about a week.3

Cold1 Flu1 Coronavirus1
Aches and pains Common Common Common
Blocked or runny nose Common Sometimes Sometimes
Cough Mild Common (usually dry) Common (usually dry)
Diarrhoea No Sometimes in children Rare
Fatigue Sometimes Common Common
Fever/chills Rare Common Common
Headaches Rare Common Sometimes
Loss/change in sense of smell or taste Rare Rare Common
Nausea/vomiting No Sometimes Rare
Shortness of breath No No Common
Sore throat Common Sometimes Sometimes
Sneezing Common No No

Causes of Colds and Flu

Colds and flu are caused by a viral infection – but different viruses.2,3 In fact, there are over 200 viruses that can cause the common cold.4 There are fewer flu viruses but each year there are different flu virus strains in circulation, which is why there is an annual flu jab that protects against the current strains.4,5

It’s easy to catch a cold or flu as they are spread by sneezing, coughing or touching a surface that has been previously touched by another infected person.2 Did you know that the cold virus can stay on surfaces for around 24 hours?2

Treating Colds and Flu

While there’s no cure for the common cold, there are things you can do to ease your symptoms. Luckily, these also help with flu symptoms too:2,6

  • Rest – don’t try to carry on, take the time your body needs to recover
  • Drinks lots of fluid to stay hydrated
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Ease aches and pains, sore throat and reduce fever with ibuprofen, or paracetamol
  • Unblock a stuffy nose with either a nasal saline spray or a decongestant, such as pseudoephedrine. Nurofen Cold & Flu Tablets contain both pseudoephedrine plus ibuprofen to offer dual action relief of cold and flu symptoms
  • Cough remedies can help suppress a cough
  • Avoid smoking.

One thing to remember is that antibiotics don’t work on colds and flu. These only work on bacteria, not the viruses that cause colds and flu.2,6

Find out more about Nurofen Cold & Flu Tablets.

Helping Prevent Colds and Flu

The first lines of defence in helping to prevent colds and flu is to stay healthy and practice good hand hygiene:2,6

  • Wash hands with soap and water regularly for at least 20 seconds
  • Try and avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth as you can transfer the virus easily to these areas
  • Avoid sharing cups, glasses and towels with anyone with cold or flu symptoms
  • Use tissues to capture germs and then bin straight away.

For flu, there is another option and that’s the annual flu vaccine. Some people are more likely to have serious complications if they come down with flu, so it is important that they get vaccinated every year.5 If you are in one of the following at-risk groups, speak to your doctor about getting a flu jab:5

  • Over 65 years of age
  • Pregnant
  • Have a long-term health problem, such as diabetes or kidney, heart, lung or neurological conditions
  • Have cancer or a weak immune system
  • Living in a nursing home or a long-term care facility
  • Obese with a body mass index over 40
  • Have Down’s Syndrome.

Other people who are at increased risk of developing flu, and should therefore also get a vaccine include:  

  • Healthcare workers
  • Carers
  • People who live with someone at increased risk
  • People who regularly work with pigs, poultry or water-fowl.5

When to see your doctor

If you find your flu symptoms don’t improve after 7 days (three weeks for a cold), your symptoms suddenly get worse, you have chest pain or have difficulty breathing, you have a very high temperature or you feel hot and shivery, you have a long-term health issue (such as heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease or diabetes or you have a weak immune system), you are pregnant or over 65 with flu symptoms, then see your doctor for advice.2,6


Nurofen 200mg Coated Tablets contain ibuprofen. For mild to moderate pain and fever.

Nurofen Cold & Flu Film Coated Tablets contain ibuprofen and Psuedoephedrine Hydrochloride



This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.