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Treating Cold and Flu Symptoms Quickly and Effectively

  • Cold and flu symptoms can be similar, but they are different infections.
  • Colds mainly affect the nose and throat.
  • Flu symptoms usually start suddenly with a high fever and tend to make the body ache.

If you are experiencing cold and flu symptoms we encourage you to practice good hygiene (washing hands for 20 seconds with warm water, and cleaning between fingers and under nails) and physical distancing to help slow the spread of germs. If you are experiencing symptoms of fever, coughing, sore throat or shortness of breath you should seek medical advice from a doctor (including pathology testing) and stay at home (not go to school or work).

Signs and symptoms of colds and flu

Even though the symptoms for colds and flu can be similar, there are some differences. The following are symptoms that you may experience when you have a cold or the flu.

Flu:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Dry cough
  • A sore throat
  • A runny nose
  • Feeling very weak and tired

Cold:

  • A blocked or runny nose
  • A sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • A raised temperature (occasionally)

Causes of colds and flu

Colds and flu are caused by seasonal viruses, and are spread by coughs and sneezes, infecting people who are exposed with the viruses.

What to avoid

To avoid catching a cold or flu practice good hygiene and avoid close contact with someone who is showing symptoms. Try not to touch your eyes or nose or mouth, as these are entry points for infections. Don’t share towels, or household items like glasses or mugs.

If you’re exhibiting symptoms, you should see a doctor. When it comes to colds and flu, healthcare professionals recommend you steer clear of antibiotics, as they do not relieve symptoms, nor speed up recovery. They are only effective against bacterial infections, not viral infections such as colds and flu.

How to relieve the symptoms of colds and flu

There are several ways you can help relieve cold and flu symptoms, including:

  • Keep warm
  • Get rest and sleep
  • Take ibuprofen or paracetamol to lower your temperature and to relieve any pains and/or aches
  • Drink enough water
  • To relieve a sore throat, gargle warm salty water

For a preventative approach, get the flu vaccine from your GP before the start of the flu season to reduce your risk of contracting flu and spreading it. Keep in mind that having the influenza vaccine will not prevent you from getting colds, as colds are caused by different viruses.

When to seek medical help

  • Colds may make ongoing medical conditions worse.
  • See your doctor if this situation relates to you.
  • See a doctor if your symptoms appear suddenly, are severe or last longer than usual.
  • See your doctor for advice if you have fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath.

This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.

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References:

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    NPS MedicineWise. Colds, coughs and flu: what you can do, May 2014.

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    Moghadami M. Iran J Med Sci 2017;42(1):2-13.

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    Better Health Channel. Colds, June 2011.

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    Eccles R. (2005) Lancet Infect Dis 5: 718-725

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    Allan GM and Arroll B. (2014) CMAJ. 186(3):190-199

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    HealthDirect 2020 “Colds” Available at:
    https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/colds (accessed 4/5/2020).

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    Kohanski MA et al. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2010 June ; 8(6): 423-435.