Cold & Flu
In this Health Hub article, we explore the symptoms of colds & flus and the various medications and treatments available.
Both colds and
A cold is a mild respiratory illness that tends to come on slowly but pass quickly, within a few days. You often start off with a sore throat, a cough and a blocked nose which all improve within a few days. When you have the flu, however, the symptoms come on quite suddenly within a few hours and tend to feel much more severe than a cold (see signs and symptoms of the flu below).
Facts & Figures
- Flu is a highly infectious illness and it is estimated that flu is responsible for between 200 and 500 deaths each year in Ireland, mostly elderly patients.
- Last year, 78,935 people were vaccinated at a pharmacy, an increase of 26% on the year before. The vaccine is also available from GPs.
- If you are 18 years old or over, are one of the people for whom vaccination is strongly recommended and have a Medical Card, Doctor Visit Card or HAA* Card, you are entitled to receive the winter flu vaccination and consultation free of charge from your pharmacist.
Signs & Symptoms of the Flu
- A fever from 38-40 degrees Celsius.
- A runny nose.
- A sore throat and a dry tickly cough.
- Muscle and joint pain and general aches.
- Severe headaches.
- Loss of appetite.
- Feeling cold and shivery and hot and sweaty.
- Having trouble sleeping.
- Feeling emotional.
- Vomiting or diarrhea
The main symptoms of the flu tend to peak after around five days but a feeling of fatigue can last for up to three weeks. In most cases, symptoms will pass without any long-term health implications. However, in certain circumstances, the flu can be dangerous and even life-threatening to vulnerable groups (the elderly, pregnant and those with health conditions) as it can potentially lead to pneumonia.
Prevention of Cold & Flu
- Flu can be prevented by vaccination. The flu vaccine is a safe, effective way to help prevent flu infection, avoiding hospitalisation, reducing flu-related deaths and illnesses.
- Smoking and drinking can have a negative effect on your immune system and hence should be avoided to prevent catching a cold or the flu.
- Echinacea, a traditional herbal medicinal, can be used to relieve common cold and flu-like symptoms, exclusively based on long-standing use. It works by strengthening the body's immune system - the benefit of this is that the body is able to fight infections better. Taking high doses of Echinacea at first signs of a cold is attributed to shortening the duration and reducing the severity of the illness.
- Multivitamins, especially vitamin C and Zinc, are useful for strengthening the immune system and should be taken as supplements to improve the bodies natural defences during the winter months.
Medications & Treatments
The best way to fight the flu is with bed rest, plenty of fluids and paracetamol to keep your temperature down.
There are many medications that can help to alleviate the symptoms of a cold/flu. Depending on your symptoms you may select which medicines may be appropriate to help provide relief.
The Flu Vaccine
- It is advisable for people in
at riskgroups to get vaccinated against influenza. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the 3 strains of flu virus recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the strains most likely to be circulating this season.
- You should get your flu vaccination from September to be covered for flu season. The viruses change each year. This is why you need to get a new vaccine each year.
- People 18 and over should get the vaccine from their GP or Pharmacist or Occupational Health Department. Younger people should get the vaccine from their GP.
- The flu vaccine is free if you are in an
at riskgroup but you may be charged a consultation fee unless you have a medical card or a GP visit card.
The flu vaccine doesn't contain any live viruses - it cannot give you the flu.
Advice From The Pharmacist
- Do not ask your doctor for antibiotics as they will not have any effect against colds/flu.
- The best way to fight the flu is with bed rest, plenty of fluids and paracetamol to keep your temperature down.
- It is advised that you get the flu vaccine every year if you are over the age of 65, pregnant or have a long-term health condition. You should also get vaccinated if you are a healthcare worker, a resident of a long-stay institution or a care home, or if you come in to regular contact with pigs, poultry or waterfowl.