Is it really flu…or just a bad cold?

 As the colder weather starts to hit us, so too does the barrage of runny noses, coughs, blocked sinuses and headaches.

Usually, these viruses are nothing more than an inconvenience, but if you’re unlucky enough to get full-blown influenza (flu), then you can expect a week or so in bed feeling very sorry for yourself.

But how will you know if you actually have the flu or if you are just struck by a particularly unfriendly cold? In this post, we’ll explore the symptoms of both and advise you on what you can do about them.

How quickly did you become ill?
The symptoms of the flu develop rapidly. A cold on the other hand can linger for some time before it takes hold; you’ll be aware that you’re not in full health, but it can take time to manifest fully.

 Have you got a fever?
One of the main symptoms of the flu is a fever, caused by your body fighting the infection. Generally, a fever is considered anything over 38C.

If you have a cold your body is not fighting the same severe virus and therefore your temperature is unlikely to be greatly elevated.

How tired are you?
The flu is completely exhausting. Your body will ache when you try to move and you won’t have the energy to complete your normal daily tasks.

Although you might feel run down with a cold, you will be perfectly capable of going about your day as normal. You might just want to limit your responsibilities if possible and go to bed early to give yourself chance to rest and recover – you shouldn’t need to stay in bed all day.

Do you have a headache?
A persistent bad headache is a common symptom of the influenza virus. The pain is often so strong that it prevents you getting out of bed.

There are many reasons that someone might get a headache, so having a headache does not on its own indicate you have flu. It is possible for someone with a cold to also suffer with one. However, it is the severity of the headache and combination of other symptoms that will tell you whether it’s flu.

Are you feeling the chills?
Many flu sufferers experience the sensation of being cold and shivering despite having a fever.

Those who are struggling to deal with a cold won’t experience this same uncomfortable feeling.

What can I do if I have the flu?
After reading this post, you might conclude that you do in fact have influenza. For most people we would recommend that you give your body the chance to fight the virus and allow yourself time to recover fully – it’s also recommended that you stay away from people who may be particularly vulnerable to the flu.

However, if you’re in an at-risk group, we would recommend consulting your GP immediately, as you are more likely to develop complications and secondary infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis.

Patients are considered at risk or more vulnerable to flu if they are:

  • Aged 65 years or over
  • Aged 6 months – 11 years
  • Has diabetes
  • Is pregnant
  • Has a chronic heart condition?
  • Has a chronic chest complaint
  • Has a chronic kidney disease
  • Has chronic liver disease
  • Has a chronic neurological condition
  • Has spleen issues
  • Has lowered immunity due to disease or medication.
  • Is morbidly obese

If you’re not considered ‘at risk’ from the flu, you can take painkillers to ease the symptoms. Antibiotics won’t work on the flu virus. Unfortunately, it’s mostly a case of riding it out.

However, if you have been experiencing symptoms for over a week get in touch your local pharmacy or GP for further advice.

What do I do if I have a cold?
A cold is unpleasant but it won’t harm you. Take rest when you need it and seek advice on the medication you can take from a local, friendly pharmacy like Evans.

If you haven’t got the flu, it’s good news – but it doesn’t mean you won’t develop it in the future. Influenza travels on water droplets through sneezing and coughing, so it’s important to maintain high hygiene levels and wash your hands regularly, particularly when you’re feeling run down.

If you identify yourself as a member of an at-risk group, then we would invite you to get yourself this year’s flu vaccine. It’s free of charge and can be administered at your GP’s surgery or local Evans Pharmacy where there is no appointment necessary. Or if all the talk of fever and headaches has got you worried about the flu, why not consider our private flu vaccination service? Flu vaccination supplies do tend to run low after November though, so we urge you to pop in as soon as you can.

If you’re not sure whether you need the flu vaccination or not, you might find this article helpful.

You can read more about our flu vaccination service here.

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