Cold vs flu checklist

With different viruses in circulation throughout the autumn and winter months, how can you tell whether the bug you’ve picked up is a common cold or flu?

Many people believe they have flu when what they really have is a bad cold – which isn’t surprising, as colds and flu share some of the same symptoms.

However, flu can be more serious than a cold, which is why many people are entitled to a free flu jab on the NHS every year. Here are the main symptoms of colds and flu to help you decide which one is affecting you:

Symptom: fever ✔

Cold: Sometimes, mild.
Flu: Common, 38-39ºC and sometimes higher, especially in young children. Lasts three to four days.

Symptom: headache ✔

Cold: Sometimes.
Flu: Common.

Symptom: aches and pains ✔

Cold: Slight.
Flu: Common, often severe.

Symptom: fatigue, weakness ✔

Cold: Sometimes.
Flu: Common, can last for two to three weeks.

Symptom: exhaustion ✔

Cold: Never.
Flu: Extreme exhaustion is usual, often at the beginning.

Symptom: sneezing and stuffy nose ✔

Cold: Common.
Flu: Sometimes.

Symptom: sore throat ✔

Cold: Common.
Flu: Sometimes.

Symptom: cough/chest discomfort ✔

Cold: Mild to moderate.
Flu: Common, can become severe.

How long do colds/flu last?

If you have a cold your symptoms will typically develop over one or two days and gradually get better after a few days. However some colds can last for up to two weeks. With flu, on the other hand, your symptoms will appear one to three days after infection. Most people recover within a week, though you may feel tired for longer.

If you have a high risk of developing complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis after catching flu, you may be eligible for a free flu jab on the NHS (people in high risk groups include those aged 65 or older as well as people with certain medical conditions).

If you don’t qualify for a free jab, you can still protect yourself against flu by having a private vaccination. Many Careway pharmacies offer private flu jabs: find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our online Pharmacy Finder.