The difference between a cold and the flu

The difference between a cold and the flu

During wintertime, it's not uncommon to hear that people have come down with a nasty cold or are off work with the flu (influenza).

Colds and flus are both illnesses that affect our airways and how we breathe. They are commonly confused with one another because they share many common symptoms.

It’s helpful to know the difference between a cold and the flu, as well as what to do when you or someone you are caring for has flu-like symptoms.

The flu is characterised by the sudden onset of:

  • A high temperature (fever) and chills.
  • Headache.
  • Weakness and aching muscles.
  • Debilitating tiredness.
  • Loss of appetite.

A cold’s symptoms are usually above the neck and include:

  • A sore throat.
  • Sneezing.
  • A running or stuffy nose.
  • A mild fever.
  • Mild headache (from congested sinuses).
  • Sometimes a cough.

When to see a doctor

See a doctor if your child:

  • Is not improving.
  • Is unusually irritable, grizzly or sleepy.
  • Is breathing quickly and noisily.
  • Is refusing to eat or drink – look for signs of dehydration: Dry nappies or no tears when crying.
  • Is under 6 months old and has a fever.
  • Complains of sore ears or a sore throat.
  • Coughs a lot.

See a doctor if you:

  • Feel like your symptoms are getting worse.
  • Don't seem to be getting better after a few days.

If you are unsure, don’t hesitate to see your doctor.

How to avoid getting the flu

Having a flu shot each year is the best way to protect against the flu and it’s free for certain groups and those with certain medical conditions. Many workplaces offer the flu shot to employees or you can see your doctor or participating Life Pharmacist who can discuss it with you in detail.


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