People often use the term ‘flu’ for any cough or cold, but in fact influenza is a distinct condition that usually feels much worse than the average cold and can be serious. Here’s what you need to know about treating flu.

A case of flu can give you headaches, muscle aches, a high temperature, a cough, and a sore throat. If you get it, you’ll probably feel absolutely exhausted. The flu is caused by a virus and the symptoms can leave you feeling wiped out. For some people the flu can become very serious and it can even be fatal, so it’s important to look after yourself if you get it and to avoid getting the flu if you can, especially if you have underlying health conditions. That’s why many people get the flu vaccination every year to prevent a case of the flu.

Read on to find out more. However, this is no substitute for medical advice, so if you have underlying conditions or you are concerned about flu-like symptoms get in touch with your GP as it can be a very serious condition.

What is the flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a condition that affects your respiratory system. It’s caused by the influenza virus and can bring on symptoms including a cough, sore throat, headache and other muscle aches, and a fever.  It can also make you feel extremely tired. For some people it can be very serious and even fatal, so take care. The flu spreads easily because when people cough or sneeze, the germs can live for as long as 24 hours on hands or any surfaces unless they are cleaned.

Flu causes

Flu is caused by the influenza virus, and because it is very infectious it is easily spread. A person with the condition coughs or sneezes and the virus lands on their hands or a nearby surface, then it is passed on when someone else comes into contact with it. The germs can stay there ready and able to infect someone else for around 24 hours. According to the NHS website a person with flu is more likely to give it to others in the first five days of the infection.

Flu symptoms

  • Feeling exhausted.
  • Sudden fever that could take your temperature to 38C or above.
  • Aches including headaches.
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat.
  • Other possible symptoms include loss of appetite, diarrhoea, and feeling sick or vomiting.

People may have difficulty telling the difference between the flu and a simple cold, but there are some differences. Flu appears quickly, whereas a cold comes on gradually. It makes you feel much worse than a cold and it’s very difficult to carry on as normal if you have it, whereas with a cold, although you may feel some similar symptoms, it’s usually possible to get on with your usual routine. Cold symptoms are usually confined to your nose and throat, whereas flu symptoms are more widespread in the body.

Flu diagnosis

You may be able to tell from your symptoms if you have the flu, without seeing a doctor, but there are circumstances when you should contact your doctor or go to or call 111 to get help and advice. The NHS says that you should get help promptly if you have flu and any of the following apply to you – you are 65 or over, you’re pregnant, you have long-term conditions such as diabetes, or diseases of the heart, lungs or kidneys, or neurological disease, or your immune system is weakened. Even if none of those apply to you, but your symptoms do not get any better after seven days, you should seek medical help from your GP or the NHS phoneline. If you’re worried about a baby or child’s symptoms definitely get medical advice right away.

Flu treatments

As long as things don’t take a severe turn, you can treat the condition yourself and this will make you feel better as well as potentially shortening the duration of the illness. However, get medical help and advice if you are over 65, pregnant, have long-term underlying health conditions, a weak immune system or the symptoms haven’t improved after a week.

Rest and keep warm

Having the flu is exhausting and you may not feel like doing much. It’s important to listen to your body and allow yourself to rest and to sleep if you feel you need to. You need to keep warm, so whether you have taken to your bed or you’ve set up camp on the sofa, it’s a good excuse to curl up with your duvet and a put on a cosy jumper.

Stay hydrated

Having a high temperature can make dehydration happen more easily, so it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking enough water. You can tell if you’ve taken on enough fluids by looking at your pee when you go to the loo. If you’re sufficiently hydrated it should be clear or pale yellow.


Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen if you can will help you feel better because these medications help to lower your temperature and ease aches and pains. Antibiotics are not recommended as they don’t ease flu symptoms or help you get better any more quickly.

How can I prevent the flu?

You can catch it as a result of touching a surface where the virus is present, because someone with flu has sneezed or coughed nearby and the droplets have landed on surfaces. If you then touch your nose or mouth that can introduce it into your system. That means that one of the best ways to prevent yourself getting it is thoroughly washing your hands often with warm water and soap, so that if you do touch a contaminated surface, you remove the germs from your hands. If you have the flu you can help prevent the spread to others by using a tissue when you cough or sneeze and putting it in the bin as soon as you can.

Getting the vaccine can also help you avoid getting influenza. The following groups can get it on the NHS – those who are aged 50 or over, have certain health conditions, are pregnant, or living in long-stay residential care. People who receive a carer’s allowance or who care for someone who could be at risk if they caught the flu, or those who live with someone who is at high risk from coronavirus can also get it on the NHS as can frontline health or social care workers.

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