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What's the difference between colds and flu?
What is the difference between cold and influenza (flu)
The symptoms of a common cold
a runny or blocked nose
minor throat irritation
a feeling that your ears are blocked
coloured mucus or nasal discharge - this means that your immune system is fighting the infection.
Influenza is a much more serious illness. Often people call a severe common cold 'the flu', but they are quite different illnesses. Symptoms of influenza usually start suddenly with a high fever and you may feel sick enough to go to bed. Symptoms include:
irritation in the throat or lungs
a dry cough
severe muscle aches
The flu tends to make the whole body ache, whereas the common cold usually affects the nose and throat only.
How can you prevent getting a common cold?
Practice preventative measures: wash your hands, and keep your fingers away from your eyes and nose.
Avoid close contact with cold sufferers.
Help your immune system: get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, eat well-balanced meals, sleep for 7-8 hours per night, and regular exercise.
Consult your doctor for an annual flu injection. Although not 100% effective, the vaccination dramatically lessens the severity of the flu (but has no effect on the common cold).
Practical ways to treat the symptoms of common colds and flu
Don’t use antibiotics
Antibiotics won’t help a common cold or flu. Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria and do not have any effect on viruses such as colds and flu. Most viruses are fought and overcome by your immune system. If you have a cold use common sense.
Treat the symptoms
Over-the-counter cold remedies, decongestants and simple pain relievers may relieve some cold symptoms, but will not prevent, cure, or even shorten the illness. However, they can make you feel better!
Drink plenty of fluids
Drinking plenty of fluids is essential to prevent dehydration. Hot honey and lemon drinks are a great way to soothe the throat and help to clear the nasal passages and sinuses. Also try inhaling steam. To assist with a sore throat, try throat lozenges, gargles and throat sprays.
Take it easy
Shifting into lower gear by staying at home - with plenty of rest - is a good idea until you're feeling better. You won't be popular if you spread your cold around the work place. Likewise if you have children who are sick, keep them at home. Kids spread germs quickly.
Will antibiotics help me get better?
Antibiotics won't stop your cold from getting worse and will not stop infection spreading to other people. Importantly, using antibiotics when you don't need them may make them less effective when you do need them. Antibiotics cause side effects like stomach upsets, diarrhoea and thrush.
What is the difference between a virus and a bacterium?
Viruses are tiny infectious germs that live within the cell. Because they are so small, antibiotics do not work against viruses. Bacteria are larger infectious germs and live outside the cell.
The information in this fact sheet is provided by the National Prescribing Service, an independent, non-profit education and information provider about medicines.
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