Cold or flu? 

Do you know the difference between a cold and flu? An expert explains the conditions, treatments and remedies available.

Find out more about colds and flu

Transcript of Cold or flu?

I'm Dr Rob Hicks. I'm a GP working here at the Randolph Surgery in London.

The difference between the common cold and the flu

is that they're caused by different viruses.

With the common cold, the symptoms tend to come on gradually.

They're not too severe and they affect the upper respiratory tract,

they affect the nose and the throat.

And with the common cold you tend to be able to get on and do things.

With the flu, on the other hand,

it's a more severe illness for the majority of people.

It knocks them for six

and these symptoms will prevent people from doing anything

other than lying down on the sofa or in their bed.

We talk about doing the ten-pound note test.

If you see a ten-pound note on the floor and you're able to pick it up,

you haven't got the flu, you're more likely to have the common cold.

The viruses that cause the cold and the flu

are spread in little liquid droplets

when somebody talks, laughs, sneezes or coughs

and doesn't protect their mouth and nose.

You can also pick these viruses up on your hands

if you touch a surface that's contaminated with the virus,

so it might be a tap, it might be a phone, for example,

and then you touch your nose and your eyes,

allowing that virus to get into the body.

If somebody develops a common cold,

so they're sneezing, they've got a runny nose,

an itchy, tickly throat and a bit of a dry cough,

then it's important to rest as much as possible,

eat enough food, drink enough non-alcoholic liquid

and then use over-the-counter remedies

like paracetamol, ibuprofen, a cough medicine, decongestants, for example,

to relieve those symptoms.

If somebody has the flu, they're knocked for six for most cases.

Again it's important to rest as much as possible,

drink plenty of liquid

and use remedies to actually relieve the symptoms

of muscle aches and pains and a high temperature,

so paracetamol and ibuprofen, for example.

Decongestants are good for relieving the bunged-up feeling that people get,

and also a cough medicine is good as well

if you get a tickly, itchy or indeed a productive cough.

Steam inhalation is something that many people benefit from.

It helps to relieve the congestion in the nose.

As with the common cold, the flu is caused by a virus,

so antibiotics will not be of any benefit.

Now, doctors may recommend an anti-viral treatment

if somebody is in a high-risk group

and flu is circulating within that community.

I think it's very important that those people who are at greater risk

of suffering the complications of the flu,

so chest infections and pneumonia, for example,

and needing to go into hospital for treatment,

have a flu jab every year.

So these people include everybody over the age of 65,

those people living in a residential home or a nursing home,

somebody who's the primary carer of somebody with an illness,

for whom if the carer becomes sick it will put that individual's care at risk,

and then anybody over the age of six months

who has a long-term condition

affecting their lungs, their heart, their liver, their kidneys,

that has diabetes or whose immune system is weakened

because of a medical condition or medical treatment.

For most people who develop the common cold

or indeed get struck down by the flu,

they can safely be managed at home looking after themselves,

or with the flu you often need somebody to look after you.

In the ideal world, if somebody develops a cold,

they would stay at home and rest,

but we don't live in the ideal world, unfortunately,

so it's important that if somebody still has to go to work with a cold

that they try and protect the others around them.

And simply this means when they are coughing and sneezing

to cover their nose and mouth with a disposable tissue,

to throw this away and to wash their hands.

And throughout the day to wash their hands frequently

to make sure that none of the virus is going on the hands,

then being transmitted to surfaces that other people may touch and pick up.

And the same goes for those in the working environment.

It's important for them to wash their hands frequently

because we will all touch these surfaces

and we can't guarantee that those viruses won't be present

and that we won't then pick them up and get infected.


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