As summer draws to a close and September arrives, we start seeing the signs in local pharmacies and GPs that something else is also coming. Flu. Every year the winter seasons brings with it an increase of cold & flu viruses, which are passed around our offices and schools. But how do you know if you have a cold or season flu? Both are respiratory infections, but their symptoms differ ever so slightly.
Cold usually come on slowly and often start with a scratchy feeling in your throat. A cold is usually milder than flu and often you’ll find you start to feel better within 7 – 10 days. Flu, however, can come on very quickly and severely and can leave you feeling unwell for up to 2 weeks. The key difference between cold and flu is fatigue, the flu virus can leave you feeling fatigued for weeks after if you had a severe strain of the virus.
Preventing a cold
Colds are highly contagious and are frequently passed around by sneezing (this is due to rhinovirus being one of the most common viruses linked to the common cold).
If someone around you if infected, don’t share personal items or utensils and practice good hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and soap to kill any germs or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If you commute into work, make sure you wash or use hand sanitiser after using public transport. If you sneeze, cover your mouth and nose and always wash your hands afterwards.
And if you’re sick with a cold – stay at home and recover!
The best way to prevent flu is to get the vaccination. We recommend getting flu vaccination at the beginning of the flu season (October), but it is also effective later in the season. Last year the flu season in the UK lasted until March!
The same principles apply to avoiding flu as avoiding a cold, avoid people infected with the virus and practice good hand washing hygiene./p>
You should also look after your physical wellbeing to make sure your immune system is functioning as well as it can by having plenty of sleep, eating your 5 a day (or more), regularly exercising and managing your stress, as long-term stress can weaken your immune system.
When to speak to your doctor
Though cold and flu viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics, they can cause complications if you are in an at-risk category. This includes:
- People older 50 years
- Children below 2 years
- People with weakened immune systems (HIV, chemotherapy or steroid treatment)
- Pregnant women
- People with heart or lung conditions
- People with metabolic conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease
- People living in care facilities, such as nursing homes
If you or a loved one are in this category it is important to stay vigilant for worsening symptoms or signs of distress.
You should contact a doctor immediately if their/your symptoms suddenly become severe or are not improving.
Signs of pneumonia
In some cases, cold and flu viruses can turn into pneumonia, which is very dangerous if left untreated. Signs of pneumonia include:
- Severe sore throat
- High, persistent fever
- Cough that produce green mucus
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
If you are concerned contact NHS 111 or go to A&E in case of emergencies.
If it is not an emergency, you can book to see one of our GPs. We’re open 7 days a week with same day appointments available.