Nobody enjoys being ill, especially during the winter when it can be a struggle to get warm at the best of times.
Most of the time, a scratchy throat and blocked nose can be explained by the common cold virus, and you should be back to normal within a week. However, there are times that it can be difficult to tell whether you’re suffering from a heavy cold, or whether you’ve caught the more serious influenza virus that tends to circulate around this time of year.
Although both a cold and the flu can be treated at home with various remedies and medicines, if you have the flu, it’s likely that you’ll need to be prescribed flu treatment such as Tamiflu to help you make a quick recovery. Where Tamiflu won’t help with a normal cold, it can stop the flu virus from multiplying in your body, as well as reducing the severity of your symptoms. In many cases, tamiflu can even reduce the duration of the flu by up to two days. However, treatment must be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms for it to be effective, so it’s a good medicine to have in stock in case you or someone in your family ends up with the flu this winter.
Is it a cold or the flu?
Cold and flu symptoms are incredibly similar, and it can make it difficult to tell the difference between the two if you’ve got a particularly bad cold. However, there are some questions that you can ask yourself to determine which virus is making you feel ill, and whether you should start taking flu treatment.
One of the first things to ask yourself is:
“when did I begin to feel poorly?”
Symptoms of a cold generally come on fairly gradually. You might start with a blocked nose or a sore throat that gets worse or develops into a full cold over the course of a couple of days. However, if your symptoms started and got rapidly worse within a few hours, you’re more likely to be suffering with the flu. Patients that experience the flu tend to notice that their symptoms get much worse within the same day that they started, whereas those that suffer with colds feel gradually worse over the course of 2-3 days.
Neither are pleasant to experience, butt symptoms of the flu can be more severe and leave you feeling much worse, much sooner than if you had a cold. Luckily, flu treatment can reduce the severity and duration of your symptoms as long as it’s taken within 48 hours of you first starting to feel unwell.
“Do I have a headache?”
This isn’t one of the most reliable methods of telling whether you have a cold or the flu, but alongside the other questions in this article, it might help you to determine which course of action to take. Headaches can be caused by many things, most commonly dehydration, but they don’t usually come as part and parcel of having a cold. Whilst you might feel a little groggy to begin with, headaches that occur with colds normally improve rapidly as you start drinking more fluids. However, if you find that you have a headache that feels impossible to shake, and isn’t made better by drinking plenty of water, it could be a sign of the flu. Headaches commonly accompany the flu virus, and aren’t always easy to get rid of, though it’s still incredibly important to keep your fluid intake up and get plenty of rest, even if you feel like it isn’t doing much to help.
“What is my temperature?”
Whilst it’s possible to have a slightly raised temperature with a cold, it’s far more common if you’re suffering from influenza.
A normal body temperature is around 37 degrees celcius. If you take your temperature and it’s above 38 degrees, this is classed as a fever,in which case, the best course of action is to make an appointment with your GP (you may prefer to do this over the phone or request a home visit if you’re feeling too ill to leave the house). You can also ring 111 for advice if your flu symptoms have progressed outside of your GP surgery’s normal opening hours.
Mild temperatures can often be treated with medicines such as paracetamol, but you should be careful if you’ve already taken anything else, such as cold and flu medicine, as these usually already contain paracetamol or ibuprofen, and you could end up having too much if you aren’t careful.
“Do I feel achy?”
If you feel achy and as though you can’t get comfortable, it’s possible that you’re suffering from the flu. Muscle aches are common with the influenza virus and can affect the whole body, making you feel pretty miserable and unwell. Body aches don’t usually accompany a cold, so if other parts of your body feel achy or painful as well as experiencing a sore throat, stuffy nose or cough, it’s entirely possible that you could have the flu.
These aches are often treated with the other medicines you might be taking for your symptoms, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, but if you’re finding that they aren’t helping, you might find that stronger painkillers such as co-codamol or naproxen might help you a little more, though you’ll need a prescription for these.
“Can I do most of my daily tasks, even if i feel unwell?”
With a cold, it’s normal to feel ill and a bit grumpy, but you should still be able to do most of your daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and going to work (albeit armed with a few packs of tissues and some hand sanitiser). If you find that you’re managing most tasks whilst still coughing and sneezing, it’s likely that you’re suffering with a heavy cold. However, if you’re getting unusually exhausted, or if you feel too ill to concentrate or stand up for long, there’s a good chance that you’ve been struck down by the flu virus. You might be much more tired than usual, or feel as though you can’t get out of bed. In this case, you should listen to your body and give it the rest that it needs to recover. Fighting off a virus is a lot of work for your immune system, and pushing yourself can cause more harm than good. As well as taking medicine, you should make sure that you’re getting plenty of rest and fluids to give your body the best chance at a quick recovery.
If you think you might have caught a flu virus, and your symptoms could be due to that rather than a seasonal cold, it’s a good idea to take flu treatment such as Tamiflu as soon as possible. It’s important to start taking the medicine within 48 hours to make sure that its working to its full potential.
Tamiflu is also used to prevent flu when there has been an outbreak. If someone that you live with is suffering from the flu, you can also ask your doctor if you should take Tamiflu as a precaution.
Flu medicine can help to prevent complications of the virus, especially in those that might be more vulnerable to experiencing difficulties such as bronchitis or pneumonia, as well as making you feel better faster. However, it’s important to remember that you’re still infectious for as long as you have your symptoms, so you should always practice good hygiene even if you’re already taking tamiflu.
How to prevent the flu
You’ve probably heard the phrase “prevention is better than a cure”, and we agree with it, especially when it comes to flu.
The safest and most effective way of preventing the flu is to have the vaccine every year. Those that are eligible for the free flu jab on the NHS are more likely to suffer from complications of the flu, and could even end up in hospital as a result. It’s important to not only protect yourself from illness, but also to protect those around you, so even if you aren’t eligible for the free flu vaccine, it’s worth paying privately at a pharmacy to prevent the flu for yourself and for your loved ones.
If you aren’t able to have the vaccine, your GP may recommend that you take flu antivirals instead, especially if you’ve been around someone that already has the flu virus.
Apart from medicines, it’s absolutely essential to practice good hygiene to reduce the spread of diseases. Always sneeze into a tissue and bin it immediately, and make sure to regularly wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. Making sure that you’re taking the right steps towards preventing the spread of viruses could save you and your family from illness this flu season.