It's that time of year again; the kids are back at school, the weather is getting wetter and colder and the germ count is rife. And no matter how much you're on high alert, you just know that you're going to come down with something: a runny nose, a sore throat, maybe even a tickly cough. But what happens when your standard cold begins to feel like a little bit more than just that? Do you know the difference between a cold and the flu? Could you spot the signs?
As the UK prepares itself for what is said to be one of the worst flu epidemics in recent times, it's important to be able to distinguish between the common cold and a bad case of the flu. Here Amy Bibby, doctor with Qure, an on-demand healthcare app, discusses how to spot the symptoms of flu and how best to treat it should you be unfortunate enough to come down with it over the winter.
The difference between a cold and the flu
One of the reasons people tend to struggle in identifying whether or not they have the flu is because the symptoms are very similar. Sufferers of both ailments will find themselves with a blocked or runny nose, a sore throat, headache, cough and general feelings of fatigue. However, while cold symptoms can leave you feeling run down and out of sorts, the flu tends me be more severe. Despite common misconceptions, the flu isn't just a "bad cold". It can be very serious so needs to be treated appropriately.
So what's the difference?
Where a cold is bacterial, the flu is a virus, meaning they act differently and affect your body in different ways.
A cold tends to develop gradually over one or two days, meaning you're most contagious during the early stages when you have a runny nose and sore throat. However, with most colds you should begin to feel better within a few days (apart from in rare cases when a cold can last up to two weeks).
The flu, however, usually comes on much faster. Symptoms tend to appear one to three days after infection and where a cold will usually cause more nasal problems, the flu will give you a fever, make you feel lethargic and your muscles will ache. With the flu, you should begin to feel better within a week or so, although it's likely that you may feel tired for much longer.
The £10 test
If you're suffering from these symptoms and aren't sure whether or not you're getting the flu or a cold, try the "£10 test". Imagine there was a £10 note on the floor and ask yourself "could I bend down and pick this up without feeling like I'm going to fall over or worse, pass out?" If the answer is no, then the chances are you're coming down with the flu.
Treating the flu
Because flu is caused by a virus and not bacteria, antibiotics won't treat it. Also, while anyone can contract it, it can be much more serious among the elderly, anyone with a pre-exisiting serious medical condition or pregnant women, so it's important to recognise the signs and know how to treat it.
First of all, getting a flu vaccine is highly recommended, especially with the recent news on the flu pandemic this winter. Patients under the age of two and over the age of 65 are entitled to a free vaccination, anyone between those ages may have to pay for there's. Vaccinations can be done either at your local surgery or at a time and location that suits you via the Qure app.
If you do catch the flu, treating it is pretty simple: get a lot of rest, drink plenty of fluids and manage your temperature with paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen. Ensure you don't go into the office and try to stay away from any others who you may pass the virus onto. While seeing a GP isn't necessary, we'd recommend getting in touch with them for an appointment if you fit into any of the below categories:
• 65 or over
• Have a lung, heart, kidney, liver or neurological disease
• Have a weakened immune system
• Have diabetes
If you are a relatively healthy person, you should be feeling better within a week or so.
Treating a cold
Like the flu, treating a cold can be done from home and in a similar way. Drinking plenty of fluids (to replace the fluid lost through sweating and a runny nose), resting up and eating healthily - a low fat, high fibre diet is recommended, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
You can also try some over-the-counter medication such as painkillers, decongestants and cold medicines. Of course, if you're taking any of these ensure you read the label and understand what you can and cannot take together.
As always with any contagious illness or infection, ensure you keep contact with others at a minimum and always make sure you practice good hygiene so as to not pass the infection on. If you're ever unsure about your symptoms or are worried about them, get in contact with your GP, or arrange an at-home appointment via our Qure app.
Qure is one of London's newest and most innovative health services. It provides a speedy 24/7 'doctor to your door' service via an app, offering affordable medical attention at the touch of a button. To find out more about Qure and flu vaccination prices, please visit: https://www.getqure.com/