We expect the odd cold once thick tights and Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back in our lives. But succumbing to the flu is not an option when there are Christmas parties, mince pies and, err, a limited number of paid sick days to think about.
Colds and flu share many signs and symptoms, but there are also some key differences between the two. These are all the flu symptoms you need to watch out for.
With the flu, you will get the sore throat, cough, runny nose and sneezes typical to colds, but it will all be more rapid. “With the flu, the symptoms come on more suddenly,” says Dr Clare Morrison. “One can usually function quite normally with a cold, but there is no chance of that with the flu.”
Dr Erica Shenoy, Associate Chief of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Infection Control Unit agrees. “The symptom onset with influenza is often very quick, whereas with the common cold, patients report feeling generally unwell over the course of days,” she explains.
“The biggest difference between a cold and flu is that flu is more severe,” says Dr Gill Jenkins. “It may have a more rapid onset, with a fever, aching muscles and making you feel really too unwell to continue life as normal.”
We often won’t link stomach problems with the flu but the virus can give some people an upset tummy.
“Sometimes flu may cause tummy pain, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting,” says Dr Jenkins. “But most people don’t usually think of these as flu symptoms.”
Don’t ignore these more worrying symptoms
Flu usually clears up by itself (after some valuable PJ time), but don’t ignore possible signs of the virus getting worse.
Dr Morrison advises: “If you are normally fit and well, there is generally no need to see the GP, unless there are other worrying symptoms, like chest pain, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, persistent vomiting, neck stiffness, a rash, or altered consciousness.”
How to avoid catching flu
In an ideal world, everyone would keep their public transport coughs and sneezes to themselves. But, until then, your best hope is keep your hands germ-free.
Dr Morrison advises washing them regularly, “particularly after using things that have been touched by others, such as door knobs or computer keyboards”.
“Generally use soap and water often, but you can substitute an alcohol based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available,” adds Dr Shenoy. “I like to keep a small bottle of one of these products attached to my purse or backpack so it’s always available.”
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