Now that autumn is upon us, and children and young adults return to schools and universities, coughs and sneezes are on the rise. Whilst Public Health England does not warn of any particularly notable new virus to watch out for this season, it is expected that infections could be more frequent and severe this year, with some news outlets warning of a “super cold”. After months of social distancing and mask-wearing, health experts warn that our lack of exposure to viruses means our immunity to them is less than in previous years, meaning that cold and flu symptoms might be more prominent as we continue to socialise more.
This health centre article outlines some of the differences between common cold and flu symptoms, as well as methods of protecting against the viruses, and the best treatments for a swift recovery.
Cold vs Flu Symptoms
The common cold and the flu are similar in many ways, both being caused by viruses, and both causing respiratory symptoms. However, only one virus can cause the flu, the influenza virus. For colds, one of many different viruses may be the cause, such as parainfluenza and rhinoviruses. It’s not always clear which illness you might be suffering from as they share many of the same symptoms, however they tend to have some typical characteristics that can help with identification.
|Chest Discomfort/Coughing||Mild to Moderate||Common|
As a rule of thumb, flu symptoms tend to be worse than cold symptoms and begin more abruptly. Colds are more likely to cause symptoms such as a runny or stuffy nose, whilst a fever is likely to cause headaches, chills and a raised temperature. A digital thermometer or infrared thermometer is great for getting an accurate reading of your temperature which may help indicate the presence of a fever.
The common cold does not typically pose any serious health risks, however, there may be some medical complications from the flu if left untreated, such as sinus infections, ear infections or pneumonia among others. Those at the highest risk of flu-related complications include those over 65 years old, anyone with asthma, diabetes or heart disease, pregnant women, and children under 5 years old. Flu symptoms that increase the likelihood of health complications include difficulty breathing, persistent pain in the chest or abdomen, severe muscle pain and persistent dizziness, among others. You should contact your doctor or 111 if experiencing any of these symptoms.
How to Treat the Flu
Although many will recover from the flu on their own, it can make some people seriously ill, especially if you fall into the high-risk category.
Specific prescription medications exist that target the influenza virus directly. For example, Tamiflu is an effective antiviral medication for the flu that works by inhibiting the formation of the enzyme that flu needs to grow and spread, helping the body to fight the infection. Tamiflu should be taken as a 5-day course to ensure the virus is killed, even if you start to feel better earlier.
Pain Relief Treatment
Taking pain relievers can help lower your temperature and treat muscle aches and pains. Over-the-counter medication such as the anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen is ideal for reducing the intensity of these symptoms. Voltarol and Flexiseq gels are great topical pain relief treatments for localised aches and pains, whilst the TENS Digital Pain Reliever offers an alternative to medication by stimulating your endorphins via safe electric nerve stimulation.
- Stay hydrated – check the colour of your pee to ensure you’re consuming enough water (it should be a light yellow colour). You can consume liquids from sources like fruit juices, sports drinks and broth-based soups as well as drinking water, and this will help thin your mucus which reduces the chance of build-up leading to a lung infection.
- Rest and sleep – you’ll likely be feeling weaker than usual, so it’s good to reserve your body’s energy for tackling influenza, not to mention that you will be highly contagious when you first start having symptoms so it’s best not to come into work or school.
How to Treat a Cold
Colds tend to last no longer than a week or 2, and you can often treat them without needing to visit a GP.
One of the most common symptoms of the cold is a stuffy nose and decongestants help to clear the airways to aid normal respiration.
Nasal sprays such as the Sterimar Breathe Easy spray help to cleanse the nasal passages to provide short term relief from associated cold and flu symptoms. The Sterimar nasal spray is a 100% natural, sea water-based spray that eliminates impurities like dust and mucus, and can be used by anyone over 3 years old, including those on other medications.
Vicks Vaporub is one of the most popular cold treatments, especially for children. The topical medicine is applied to the chest or pillow when you sleep, and contains medicated vapours that help clear the airways and relieve congestion, as well as reducing coughing and easing sore throats.
Pain Relief Treatment
As is the case with flu, OTC pain relief medication such as ibuprofen can reduce the intensity of cold symptoms such as body aches and a raised temperature.
How to Protect against Colds and Flu
It’s recommended to get the flu vaccine to help protect against the flu variants that are likely to be most prevalent in any one year. This is especially important if you are at higher risk of serious complications after catching the flu, such as those over 65 years old, or with a pre-existing chronic health condition such as asthma or diabetes.
There are a number of healthy habits that can reduce your likelihood of catching a common cold or flu.
- Avoid close contact with people who you know are sick, as these illnesses are contagious.
- Clean your hands often, especially after touching things in public spaces such as handrails on public transport. When you don’t have access to a sink and soap, use an antibacterial hand sanitiser to eliminate germs effectively. Avoid touching your face too much before you’ve had a chance to wash your hands.
- Keep your immune system healthy by getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet and managing your stress levels. You should supplement your balanced diet with a multivitamin such as OneVit Complete to ensure you’re topped up on essential micronutrients.
- Wear a face mask when travelling or when in a crowded space to filter airborne particles.