Winter Cold and Flu
The most common question we are asked in a pharmacy is “what is the difference between a cold and a flu?”. Although the symptoms are extremely similar, colds usually cause more nasal problems and the flu can affect the muscles causing aches and fatigue.
It's important to know the difference between flu and cold symptoms. A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu. While cold symptoms can make you feel bad for a few days, flu symptoms can make you feel quite ill for a few days to weeks. The flu can also result in serious health problems such as pneunomia and hospitalizations. Symptoms of colds and flu can include:
- blocked or runny nose
- sore throat
- pressure in your ears and face
- loss of taste and smell
- a high temperature or fever
- muscle aches and pains
- feeling exhausted and needing to lie down
- vomiting and belly pain are also common in children
We do not recommend antibiotics for the cold or flu because it simply will not help. A virus causes the cold or flu, whereas antibiotics are for bacteria. The best advice that I can give you is to rest, rest and rest! Your body must overcome the virus by fighting against it; you therefore need to ensure that you are well rested to gain your strength. It is very important to drink plenty of water and keep hydrated because this will also help your immunity. Be sure to keep warm and take over the counter medicines to alleviate your symptoms. These can include painkillers, decongestants and vitamins, but it is best to speak to a pharmacist before taking any medications to avoid any interactions, contraindications or allergies.
When to see a doctor
- your symptoms don’t improve after three weeks
- your symptoms suddenly get worse
- your temperature is very high or you feel hot and shivery
- you’re concerned about your child’s symptoms
- you’re finding it hard to breathe or you develop chest pain
- you have a long-term medical condition – for example diabetes or a heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
- you have a weakened immune system – for example, because you’re having chemotherapy
- Complications such as sinus infection, ear infection, or pneunomia can develop in children. Call the doctor if your child's fever lasts more than 3 to 4 days. Also call if he/she complains of trouble breathing, ear pain, a stuffy nose or head, a cough that won’t go away or if he/she seems to be getting worse.
How to avoid spreading the cold or flu
Flu is very infectious and easily spread to other people. You’re more likely to give it to others in the first 5 days and with colds you are infectious until all your symptoms are gone. Colds and flu are spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.
To reduce the risk of spreading flu:
- 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
How to prevent catching a cold
The best ways to avoid catching a cold are:
- washing your hands with warm water and soap
- not sharing towels or household items (like cups) with someone who has a cold
- not touching your eyes or nose in case you’ve come into contact with the virus - it can infect the body this way
- the flu vaccine helps prevent the flu, but not colds, and it is the most effective way of preventing the flu
Note: Call 999 or go to A&E if you develop sudden chest pain, have difficulty breathing or start coughing blood.