Your throat is sore, you can’t breathe through your nose and the only thing you want to do is watch TV all day under a duvet. But is it a cold or the flu?
- Symptoms come on gradually
- You feel worse on days 1-2, and usually better in a week
- It doesn’t often cause a temperature or it’s brief and mild (not above 38oC)
- Your nose tends to be painful, irritated and red
- You will feel unwell, but not overwhelmingly tired
- Sometimes you may also suffer from eye irritation, ear pressure or earache, mild headache and mild muscle pain.
- Symptoms come on very rapidly
- You usually feel worse after 2 or 3 days in, but improve after 5 or 6 days
- You may have a temperature of 38oC or above, which comes on suddenly and can make you sweat, or give you ‘the chills’
- Your cough tends to be dry and chesty
- Headaches are very common; muscles and joints may ache badly
- You may develop diarrhoea
- You may have difficulty sleeping, although you feel very tired.
Both are highly contagious infections caused by viruses and there are only two ways to combat them, avoiding contact and boosting your immune system.
Think how many surfaces you touch; door handles, stair rails, taps, keypads when we enter our PIN. Now consider how many people have touched them before you.
- Clean high-contact surfaces regularly and thoroughly
- Clean your hands regularly and thoroughly, especially after touching your nose or mouth
- Don’t share cutlery or cups
- Cold and flu sufferers need their own hand towel or disposable paper towels
- Use tissues; throwing them away immediately prevents virus-laden droplets escaping into the air.
Boosting your immune system
If you have a medical condition which can make flu more serious, or are over 65, pregnant or a carer, you should be offered the flu vaccine every autumn. There are also many foods and supplements that claim to help.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
There is no evidence that it prevents colds; but a regular daily dose may reduce how long your infection lasts and its severity.
Zinc appears to lessen symptoms and speed up recovery, if taken from the start. Sources: wheat germ, eggs, seafood.
Only one study has shown it prevents a cold or flu; once you’re infected, there’s no proof garlic helps. Leave for 20 minutes after peeling and chopping to activate its immune boosting enzymes.
A variety of preparations have been trialled with differing results. Some trials show that Echinacea takers are 30% less likely to develop a cold but there’s little evidence it helps once you’re ill.
Glutathione and bioflavonoid
These help to maintain a healthy immune system, although there’s no cold or flu fighting evidence yet. Glutathione sources: watermelon, broccoli, cabbage. Bioflavonoid sources: cherries, green peppers, red onions.
Low levels of selenium have been linked to developing more severe flu, so maintain healthy levels. Sources: fish, nuts, mushrooms.
Saline (salt water)
Saline drops and sprays can reduce congestion and remove virus and bacteria particles.
Do I need to see my GP?
Usually, over the counter painkillers and decongestants plus plenty of rest and fluids will be all you need. But do see your GP if:
- Symptoms last more than a week, or become much worse: very high temperature, severe headache, shortness of breath, coughing up blood or chest pain
- You develop symptoms not typical of flu, such as a rash
- You have a medical condition that is making your flu worse.