What’s behind cold and flu?
There are around 200 different viruses that can cause colds. Rhinovirus is the most common, accounting for around 50-66% of common colds. The ‘flu’ (influenza) is caused by a completely different virus (influenza A or B). The viruses are spread via hand contact or the air, from coughs and sneezes.
Feeling stressed or not getting enough sleep may increase your chance of catching colds and flu.
The difference between cold and flu
Cold and flu are both viral infections affecting the nose, throat, sinuses, and airways, but they are not the same. While cold symptoms can leave you feeling unwell, flu symptoms are usually much more severe.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s likely you have caught a common cold:
- Runny nose
- Blocked nose (congestion)
- Sore throat
- Red, watery eyes
- Mild fever
Flu can affect your whole body. Symptoms are similar to cold symptoms, but are often more severe and may also include:
- High fevers, sweating and shivering
- Aching muscles and joints
- Weakness and lethargy
- Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting
Sometimes you can develop a secondary viral or bacterial infection from cold and flu. If your symptoms worsen, or persist, see your doctor.
How long do cold and flu symptoms last?
Cold and flu symptoms generally peak at 1-3 days and last 7-10 days, although some symptoms may persist for 3 weeks.
Cold and flu remedies and relief
Cold and flu symptoms may leave you feeling unwell, but you don’t have to feel miserable. Here’s a list of cold and flu remedies that may help you:
- Get plenty of rest and stay comfortably warm
- Drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic fluids
- Eat regular, healthy meals
- Inhale steam to help relieve a stuffy nose (children must be supervised)
- Avoid cigarette smoke
- Soothe a sore throat by gargling salt water; sucking on an ice cube or throat lozenge; or drinking hot water with honey and lemon
Cold and flu medicines that may help you include:
- Pain relievers such as Nurofen and Nurofen Cold and Flu for relieving fever, sore throat and other aches and pains
- Antihistamines can help relieve a runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes
- Medicines that suppress a cough (known as cough suppressants) may be used to relieve a dry cough
- Medicines that break down or loosen mucous (known as expectorants and mucolytics) may help a chesty cough
Some cold and flu medicines shouldn’t be given to young children, pregnant or breastfeeding women or people with certain medical conditions. Always read the label and if you are unsure if the medicine is right for you, ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice first.
Six tips to help manage cold or flu
Stay at home if you’re unwell
Wash your hands regularly, particularly before eating or after blowing your nose
Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose or mouth
Avoid sharing drinking or eating utensils
Clean household surfaces and children’s dummies and toys
National Prescribing Service (NPS). Available at: www.nps.org.au.
Allan GM and Arroll B. Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidence. CMAJ Canadian Medical Association Journal 2014;186(3):190-9.
Mayo Clinic. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/in-depth/cold-remedies/art-20046403.
Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA). Cold and Flu. Self Care Fact Sheet: Ear, Nose and Throat 0086 2010.