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18th Jan 2019

Do you actually have the flu or is it just a cold? How to tell the difference

Don't get it twisted.

Anna O'Rourke

Sniffle season is officially upon us.

As the January cold begins to bite, it seems like everyone is starting to get sick.

But how do you know whether you or your kids are suffering with the common cold or if it’s the flu?

A cold will tend to start with a sore throat, a runny nose and congestion. Sufferers may develop a cough after a few days.

Young children can also experience mild fever too – but this doesn’t mean they have the flu.

A cold means that you’re probably miserable but still well enough to go to school or work.

Most people who think they have the flu usually have a cold.

Do you actually have the flu or is it just a cold? How to tell the difference

The flu will present with much the same symptoms, but they can come on rapidly and will be more intense than with a cold.

Someone with the flu will also be far weaker and will be likely to experience fever, headaches, muscle aches, a dry cough, sweats and chills, a loss of appetite and nausea.


If it’s a cold…

As with many illnesses, the best cure is prevention. The rhinovirus that causes the common cold is typically spread through the air and through contact with infected surfaces and people, so antibacterial hand gels and frequent hand washing are super important.

If you already have a cold, there’s not much you can do except ride it out and treat the symptoms.

Ask your pharmacist about painkillers and decongestants. Warm baths, plenty of water and taking it easy will also help.

If you experience very severe symptoms or extreme lethargy or if your temperature tops 38 degrees for over 24 hours, call a doctor.

Do you actually have the flu or is it just a cold? How to tell the difference


If it’s the flu…

At-risk groups, like pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions, are encouraged to get a flu jab and can avail of a free one through the HSE.

As with a cold, there is no cure for the flu. Bed rest, staying warm and drinking lots of fluids are key. Try to avoid unnecessary contact with others until the symptoms pass.

Paracetamol or ibuprofen will help with pain, fever and muscle aches.

The HSE advises that you won’t need to see a doctor unless symptoms are very severe or persist for over a week.