Flu will often get better on its own, but it can make some people seriously ill. It's important to get the flu vaccine if you're advised to.
Check if you have flu
Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include:
- a sudden high temperature
- 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 still feel well enough to do your normal activities|
How to treat flu yourself
If you have flu, there are some things you can do to help get better more quickly.
A pharmacist can help with flu
A pharmacist can give treatment advice and recommend flu remedies.
Do not take paracetamol and flu remedies that contain paracetamol at the same time as it's easy to take more than the recommended dose.
Antibiotics do not work for viral infections such as flu. GPs do not recommend antibiotics for flu because they will not relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.
Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:
You or your child have symptoms of flu and:
- you're worried about your baby's or child's symptoms
- you're 65 or over
- you're pregnant
- you have a long-term medical condition – for example, diabetes or a condition that affects your heart, lungs, kidneys, brain or nerves
- you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of chemotherapy or HIV
- your symptoms do not improve after 7 days
You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if you:
- get sudden chest pain
- have difficulty breathing
- start coughing up a lot of 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
- cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze (if you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow, not into your hand)
- bin used tissues as quickly as possible
Try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities.
See how to wash your hands correctly
Video: how to wash your hands
Watch this video to find out the best way to wash your hands.
Media review due: 15 March 2026
How to get a flu vaccine
Flu vaccines are safe and effective. They're offered every year on the NHS to help protect people at risk of flu and its complications.
The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn before flu starts spreading. But you can get vaccinated later.
Adults who can have a flu vaccine
A flu vaccine is given to people who:
- are 65 and over (including those who will be 65 by 31 March 2024)
- have certain health conditions
- are pregnant
- are in long-stay residential care
- receive a carer's allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
- live with someone who is more likely to get a severe infection due to a weakened immune system, such as someone living with HIV, someone who has had a transplant, or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
Children who can have a flu vaccine
The children's nasal spray flu vaccine is given to:
- children aged 2 or 3 on 31 August 2023 (born between 1 September 2019 and 31 August 2021)
- all primary school children (Reception to Year 6)
- some secondary school children (Year 7 to Year 11)
- children aged 2 to 17 with certain long-term health conditions
Babies and children aged 6 months to 2 years with certain health conditions will be offered a flu vaccine injection instead of the nasal spray.
Where to get a flu vaccine
If you're eligible for an NHS flu vaccine, you can:
- contact your GP surgery to book an appointment
- find a pharmacy that offers NHS flu vaccination (if you're aged 18 or over)
- book a flu vaccination appointment online or in the NHS App (if you're aged 18 or over) – from 15 December 2023, you will not be able to book a flu vaccination appointment using this service
Some people may be able to get vaccinated through their maternity service, care home or their employer if they are a frontline health or social care worker.
School-aged children will be offered a vaccine at school or an NHS community clinic.
Page last reviewed: 09 August 2023
Next review due: 05 September 2025