Stages of a Cold or Flu: From Catching It to Feeling Better

2 mins

How do you know if you have the common cold or flu?

You’re feeling rotten. But when you tell anyone that’ll listen you have a cold, are you sure it’s not flu? The symptoms are so similar. You can play detective, though, as there are some clues to help you work out if you have the common cold or seasonal flu.

Cold vs flu

If you feel unwell and slowly get sicker, be glad. Sounds odd, but that means you have a cold – a much milder illness. You’ll be feeling better within three or four days.

With seasonal flu, it usually strikes suddenly. The effects can last a few weeks, and it can also result in serious health problems like pneumonia. Don’t worry, though, a cold rarely turns into the flu as they’re caused by different viruses.

How do you catch a cold?

The common cold is called common for a good reason. Almost all of us get it. Perhaps not surprising, considering there are 200 different viruses which can give you a cold. Most adults have two to four colds a year, while kids can easily get six to ten. That’s a lot of snot (and, we’re guessing, snotty sleeves…)

Colds are spread by touching an infected surface and then touching your nose, eyes or mouth. You can inhale infected droplets in the air when someone with a cold sneezes or coughs. (Yep, the same as coronavirus.)

How do I know if I’m experiencing common cold symptoms?

A cold will start anytime between one and three days after you encountered the virus. Then you’ll feel mild symptoms like a snotty or stuffy nose, a sore throat and tiredness. Over the next few days, your symptoms will peak before subsiding. Most people will feel much better after five days, though you may have a tickly cough or an irritating snotty nose for up to two weeks.

What are the symptoms of seasonal flu?

The flu, or influenza, is highly contagious, but how you react to it can vary – and how long it lasts too. There are some things you can look out for. It’s spread in the same way as a cold and takes hold around 48 hours after infection. Think headache, high fever, aching body, chills and extreme tiredness.

On day two, you’ll feel even worse – and day three is worse still. For most people, it’s day four when you’ll start to feel better. Be careful, though. If you jump up and head outdoors, not only are you still contagious, but it can also set you back and you could go downhill again.

If you’ve had your flu jabs and a healthy immune system, then flu is nothing to worry about. For kids, though, their weaker immune system can lead to complications, even pneumonia. Take your child to the doctor when you see the first signs of flu. This is also true for pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses, like asthma, heart disease or diabetes.

The five best ways to beat a cold or flu

Although the common cold and flu are different, you can help relieve your symptoms in the same way.

  1. Keep hydrated and drink lots of liquids: cold or warm water, water with lemon and/or honey, fruit juices and thin, clear soups. But some drinks will have the opposite effect. Ditch the coffee and alcohol, as this’ll dehydrate your body and leave you feeling worse.
  2. Rest up! A simple but effective way to regain your strength, and it means you can catch up on your boxsets too.
  3. Sore throat making you want to sob? Soothe it quickly by gargling with warm water and half a teaspoon of salt.
  4. Want to tell your snotty nose to get stuffed? Grab some saline nasal drops from your pharmacist.
  5. Need a superhero to soothe that sore nose? Our Kleenex® Balsam Tissues have a protective balm of aloe vera, vitamin E and calendula.
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