Is It a cold, or is it FLU?
Thursday, 25 October 2012

Is It a cold, or is it FLU?

Feel awful? It pays to know the difference between a common cold and flu, says Melonie Clarke

Written by Melonie Clarke
According to the NHS Choices website, onethird of Britons suffering from flu believe that it's just a really bad cold. The confusion arises because both have similar symptoms – sneezing and coughing together with a sore throat.

However, it pays to know the difference: each year thousands die from a range of complications that arise from flu.

So what are the fundamental differences between a cold and flu?

For a start, different viruses are at work. There are around 200 viruses that cause colds, whereas there are only three that cause flu. A cold will normally infect the upper respiratory system.

Flu can be a lot more serious. Caused by the influenza virus, the flu, like a cold, is a respiratory illness. But the symptoms of flu can be far more pronounced and are more likely to lead to further complications, such as pneumonia.

Cold or flu?
So, which one have you got?
Symptoms of a cold may include:
  • runny nose
  • blocked nose
  • sore throat
  • sneezing
  • coughing
Other symptoms can include a mild fever, tiredness and a headache or earache. It usually takes one or two days for symptoms to develop, and the cold will come and go in a few days. In rare cases, colds can last up to two weeks. Research has shown that it will be at its most contagious right at the beginning, when a person has a sore throat and a runny nose.

Flu manifests itself much more quickly than a cold. Symptoms include:
  • a sudden fever, usually 38-40°C
  • aches and pains
  • sweating
  • exhaustion
  • a dry, chesty cough
  • sneezing
Aching muscles and a fever can also be symptoms of a particularly nasty cold, which would explain why people have trouble telling the two apart. However, the tiredness associated with flu is one of the main differences between the two.

Because of complications that can occur with flu, those with medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, should seek medical help as soon as possible. If there is a very high fever and a severe headache, it is also advisable to seek medical help quickly.

Grandma knows best Some of the best cures for a cold or flu are based on age-old traditions and natural cures.

Vitamin and herbal supplements can boost the immune system and help to fight off a cold or flu. Supplements such as echinacea, zinc and vitamin C can have antiviral properties and prevent the build-up of certain proteins that can lead to a cold or flu.

Chicken soup and hot tea are also great ways to help ease suffering. Inhaling the steam can relieve nasal congestion, and drinking fl uids will keep you hydrated.

Chicken soup is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, while tea contains many antioxidants. A hot toddy (hot herbal tea, honey, whisky and lemon), like tea and chicken soup, is thought to ease congestion, soothe a sore throat and help you sleep.

Garlic, as well as fighting off vampires, is said to help combat germs. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that garlic will cure a cold or flu, but it can add flavour to a meal when a blocked nose robs you of your taste buds.

Three of the most recommended natural cures are: hot water with honey and lemon (the lemons are high in vitamin C and honey will soothe a sore throat); a menthol ointment to unblock a stuffy nose and help relieve a sore nose after continuous blowing; taking bed rest. The latter will allow your body to direct all of its energy to fighting off the virus.

In the UK, the NHS provides a free vaccination – to people who are most at risk – to fight flu. Among the various categories are the elderly and asthma sufferers, who are offered the annual inoculation. The vaccination does not
contain any of the active flu virus so, despite popular belief, the vaccine cannot give you flu. Some people do experience cold or flu-like symptoms, but that is usually because the inoculation is given around autumn time, when most of the common cold viruses are around.

It is still possible to catch a cold after the vaccination, as the vaccine only protects people from the fl u virus. To find out if you are eligible for the flu vaccine, visit or ask your GP for advice.


Coughs and sneezes spread diseases... using a tissue or a handkerchief is a good way to keep your infection to yourself.
coldflu 590 3
  1. Kleenex Feel Me Ultra Soft Tissues. Its softest yet. £1.99:
  2. Tesco Luxury Soft Tissues. The brightly designed box alone will help bring a little bit of relief. £1:
  3. Hand-embroidered Bouquet Hankie. Sneeze in style with this beautiful hankie. £12:


Cold and flu relievers
coldflu 590 2
  1. Vicks First Defence This nasal spray helps to stop a cold in its tracks. £7.49:
  2. Lemsip Cold & Flu Hot Drink Relieves aches and pains and brings down a fever. £4.99:
  3. Halls Sugar Free Assorted Citrus Keep in your bag for quick relief. 55p:



Sof McVeigh's top five alternative cold-busters

  1. 1Echinacea is a well-known herbal remedy made from a beautiful flower. Studies have shown that echinacea can reduce the length and severity of a cold, as well as your susceptibility to getting colds. It is particularly effective when combined with vitamin C. It works by boosting your immune system with its antiseptic, antiviral and even antifungal properties – but long-term use is not recommended.
  2. Elderberry is packed with natural antioxidants, and you can make your own autumn tonic sweetened with sugar or honey. The Sambucol elderberry tonics come ready-madefor adults and children.
  3. Homeopathic aconite or ferrum phos are both great if they are taken at the very fi rst sign of a cold and may nip it in the bud. Take aconite if the cold comes on after getting wet, or ferrum phos if it starts with a sore throat.
  4. Propolis is made by bees to protect their hives from infection – they collect resin and then mix it with beeswax and enzymes. Its antiviral and antibacterial properties have been recognised for decades. It is also antiseptic, anti-infl ammatory and contains antioxidants, so it makes a good defence against colds. Look for a syrup, a throat gargle or a spray from a recognised brand, such as Melvita, Comvita or Apiar.
  5. Zinc is a great mineral to take as a supplement in the winter months to boost the immune system, or to suck as a lozenge when you get a cold.

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