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Is it a cold or the flu?


1st Jan 2015 Health Conditions

Is it a cold or the flu?

So you don’t feel too well, but you’re not sure whether you have a cold or the flu. Both are caused by viruses and spread by coughs and sneezes, but the symptoms of flu are usually worse.

If your symptoms are confined above the neck–congestion, sore throat, sneezing, coughing–you probably have a cold, caused by any one of 200 viruses that other people's sneezes or coughs have placed in the air or on something you've touched.

If you have all those symptoms plus a fever of 38.5ºC or more, headache, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting, you're more likely to have the flu. It usually lasts for a week or more and can leave you feeling weak and down-in-the-dumps for days or even weeks afterwards.

If you have a cold, there are plenty of treatments and remedies to relieve your symptoms. Equally there are plenty of things you can do to treat flu symptoms if you need them.


What is the common Cold?

The common cold causes lots of unpleasant symptoms including congestion, a runny nose and sore throat as well as coughs and sneezes.

Contrary to popular belief, getting chilled does not cause a cold–at least not under laboratory conditions. In one study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine, 2 groups of people were exposed to viruses that cause the common cold. One group was exposed to the germs in a chilly 5°C room; the other group, in a balmy 30°C room. The result? Both groups caught colds at about the same rate.


What is Flu?

Flu, or influenza, is a nasty viral illness that causes symptoms similar to the symptoms of a common cold, as well as other more debilitating symptoms. It is a respiratory virus spread by those carrying it, usually through coughing and sneezing. 

If you have the flu, there are plenty of treatments and remedies to relieve your flu symptoms.



Contact your doctor if you've had a fever above 38ºC for more than 3 days, or any fever above 39.5ºC. Call, too, if you start to wheeze; find it hard to breathe; feel severe pain in your lungs, chest, throat or ear; or cough up copious amounts of phlegm, especially if it's bloody or has a greenish tinge. In children, a fever can quickly lead to dehydration, so it's important to keep pushing fluids, and talk to your doctor if you are worried.