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.

A stressful lifestyle 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 more severe.

Symptoms of the common cold include the following:

  • Runny nose
  • Blocked nose (congestion)
  • Sore throat
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness

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, or if you are concerned about your symptoms for any reason, see your doctor.

How long do cold and flu symptoms last?

Common cold symptoms generally peak at 1-3 days and last 7-10 days, although some symptoms may persist for 3 weeks.

General flu symptoms typically resolve after 3-7 days for most people, although cough and malaise can last for longer than 2 weeks in some people.

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
  • 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 feel temporary relief of your symptoms include:

  • Pain relievers such as Nurofen and Nurofen Cold and Flu for relieving fever, sore throat and other aches and pains
  • Decongestants or a saline nasal spray for a blocked nose. Nurofen Cold and Flu contains a decongestant.
  • 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

There are some simple things you can do to avoid catching a cold or spreading one to others:

  1. Stay at home if you’re unwell
  2. Wash your hands regularly, particularly before eating or after blowing your nose
  3. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  4. Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose or mouth
  5. Avoid sharing drinking or eating utensils
  6. Clean household surfaces and children’s dummies and toys