Get the facts, not the flu

Cold or flu? Different symptoms, different treatment

With today's busy lifestyles, it's often difficult to avoid the flu.

Many viruses can cause a flu-like illness. Flu-like illnesses typically cause a high temperature (fever), aches and pains in muscles and joints, a cough and various other symptoms. Most people recover fully, but complications such as pneumonia can sometimes develop with potentially serious complications.

Flu (influenza) is caused by the influenza virus. However, many other viruses can cause an illness similar to flu. It is often difficult to say exactly which virus is causing the illness, so doctors often diagnose a flu-like illness.

Each winter a different type of influenza virus causes an outbreak of flu, which affects many people. This is called seasonal flu. If you get a flu-like illness during an outbreak of seasonal flu, it is likely to be caused by the prevailing influenza virus. Most cases of flu usually occur in a period of six to eight weeks during the winter.

Do I have the flu (adults)?

  • A sudden fever: a temperature of 38C or above
  • Aching body
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • Dry, chesty cough
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea or tummy pain
  • Nausea and being sick.

Do I have the flu or a cold?

Flu appears quickly within a few hours. It affects more than your throat and nose. It makes you exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal.

A cold appears gradually. It affects mainly your nose and throat. It makes you feel unwell but you can still carry on.

How do I treat the flu?

  • Rest and sleep
  • Keep warm
  • As long as you are medically able to so (if you are unsure then check with a pharmacist or GP) take over the counter anti-inflammatories, e.g. ibuprofen or paracetemol. They will help lower your temperature and treat aches and pains
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (your pee should be light yellow or clear).

How do I treat a cold?

  • Keep hydrated: water, juice, soups and clear broth will all help to alleviate congestion and prevent dehydration
  • Try to rest and keep stress to a minimum
  • Try gargling warm salty water and sucking on ice cubes, ice lollies or hard sweets to soothe sore throats (adults)
  • Use an over-the-counter saline spray before blowing your nose to reduce irritation.

Call NHS 111 or see your GP if:

• You're worried about your baby's or child's symptoms
• You're 65 or over
• You're pregnant
• You have a long-term medical condition, e.g. diabetes or a heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
• You have a weakened immune system, e.g. because of chemotherapy or HIV
• Your symptoms don't improve after seven days.

Call 999 or go to A&E if you (i) develop sudden chest pain (ii) have difficulty breathing or (iii) start coughing up blood.

To reduce the risk of spreading flu - don't give bacteria a free ride

  • Wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • Use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
  • Bin used tissues as quickly as possible.

If you are at increased risk of developing complications, you should consider having a flu jab each autumn.

Cold or flu?

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