You can often treat the flu without seeing a GP and should begin to feel better in about a week.
If you have a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, it could be coronavirus (COVID-19).
Check if you have flu
Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include:
- a sudden fever – a temperature of 38C or above
- an aching body
- feeling tired or exhausted
- a dry cough
- a sore throat
- a headache
- difficulty sleeping
- loss of appetite
- diarrhoea or tummy pain
- feeling sick and being sick
The symptoms are similar for children, but they can also get pain in their ear and appear less active.
Telling the difference between cold and flu
Cold and flu symptoms are similar, but flu tends to be more severe.
|Appears quickly within a few hours||Appears gradually|
|Affects more than just your nose and throat||Affects mainly your nose and throat|
|Makes you feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal||Makes you feel unwell, but you're OK to carry on as normal (for example, go to work)|
How to treat flu yourself
To help you get better more quickly:
- rest and sleep
- keep warm
- take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains
- drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (your pee should be light yellow or clear)
A pharmacist can help with flu
A pharmacist can give treatment advice and recommend flu remedies.
Be careful not to use flu remedies if you're taking paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets as it's easy to take more than the recommended dose.
Do not go to a pharmacy if you have a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, it could be coronavirus.
Ask someone to go for you if you can.
Urgent advice: Contact NHS 111 if you need medical help
- if you have a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, use the 111 online coronavirus service
- if you have any other symptoms and need medical help, use the regular 111 online service
Only call 111 if you cannot get help online or you need help for a child under 5.
GPs do not recommend antibiotics for flu because they will not relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if you:
- develop sudden chest pain
- have difficulty breathing
- start coughing up blood
How to avoid spreading the flu
Flu is very infectious and easily spread to other people. You're more likely to give it to others in the first 5 days.
Flu is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.
To reduce the risk of spreading flu:
- wash your hands often with warm water and soap
- use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
- bin used tissues as quickly as possible
See how to wash your hands correctly
Media review due: 30 March 2023
How to prevent flu
The flu vaccine reduces the risk of catching flu, as well as spreading it to others.
It's more effective to get the vaccine before the start of the flu season (December to March).
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Page last reviewed: 6 August 2019
Next review due: 6 August 2022