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So, how can you tell if you've just got a cold or flu?

Sniffle season's here but how can you tell which virus you've got? Jo Gallacher asks the experts to help tackle the confusion

There may be some discrepancy between summer bowing out and when autumn officially begins, but one thing's for certain - those "winter bugs" are already doing the rounds.

Chances are, at least a couple of your colleagues have already started with the sniffles - but while we're all familiar with the dreaded bunged up head, runny nose, cough and general grogginess of a winter bug, how can you really tell if it's actually flu, or just a bad cold?


Often when people say they have flu, they actually have a heavy cold - which can still make you feel pretty rubbish. The two are caused by different viruses (plus there are many strains of flu virus, and no, flu isn't just a "cold that got worse"). In general, flu is more rare and serious; it tends to come on more suddenly, severely and lasts longer, and will typically leave you bed-bound with extreme exhaustion for a week.


According to the NHS Choices website, those suffering with flu will also experience symptoms like sudden fever and sweating, feeling shivery, more severe muscle aches and pains, and a dry, chesty cough. There is a loss of appetite also associated with flu.

With colds, common symptoms include a cough, blocked or runny nose, sneezing and a sore throat. Headaches can also occur for both colds and flu, and some people may feel achy with a cold, too.


We might know the colder months as "cold and flu season", but they can occur all year round. It is true that we see a spike in cases over autumn and winter months, though - but that's not simply because it's colder.

Spending less time outside and much longer closer together at home or indoors enables germs to pass easily from one person to another. Cranking up the heat and not opening windows also adds to the spread of germs.


While colds can leave you drained and feeling unwell, for the most part, they're rarely medically serious. Flu, on the other hand, can be very serious, especially for those who are already vulnerable, and may lead to further complications like pneumonia.

This is why flu jabs are recommended for anyone over the age of 65, alongside pregnant women, and children and adults suffering from long-term medical conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson's and auto-immune disorders.


There is a wealth of over-the-counter remedies available to soothe cold symptoms. Generally, you shouldn't need to see your doctor if you have cold or flu symptoms, but you could speak to a pharmacist for advice on treatments, and if you're unsure about symptoms or whether you should see your GP.

Belfast Telegraph


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