You've got a sore throat, a slight fever, a cough, your nose is running and your head hurts. You probably think that you have the flu! Wrong, its probably just a common cold! 



A cold is caused by a virus that affects the nose, sinuses, throat and upper airways. There are more than 200 different viruses that can cause a cold. The flu (influenza) is caused by more severe viruses.


When someone has a cold or flu, the fluid from their nose, mouth and airways contains the infecting virus. Colds and flu spread when this infected fluid passes to someone else (e.g. by touching, coughing or sneezing). A cold is most infectious in the first one to two days after symptoms develop.

Colds and flu are more common in winter as people spend more time indoors with each other, which increases the chances of infection. Colds spread easily, especially between children who spend a lot of time together (e.g. at childcare or school).


The signs and symptoms of a common cold include a blocked (congestion) or runny nose, red watery eyes, a sore throat, coughing, sneezing, mild fever, headache, tiredness and feeling generally unwell.

With the flu (influenza), the symptoms are similar to the common cold, but usually come on more quickly and are more severe. Symptoms may also include high fevers, sweating and shivering; muscle aches/pains, weakness and lethargy, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. The nose is not as runny.

Flu is unlikely to cause serious illness in healthy people. People most at risk of serious illness are those who suffer from other chronic illness, have lowered immunity (from medications or illnesses), the elderly and those with respiratory diseases. Poor health and smoking cigarettes will make infections more likely and can make symptoms more severe.


Cold and Flu symptoms usually get better on their own within 10 days (the flu can last 10-14 days), although a cough may linger for 3 weeks. Antibiotics do not work against these viral infections. Your body’s immune system will be able to fight the virus and can be helped in a number of ways.

Rest – Have plenty of sleep and rest. Stay home from work or study and away from others while you have a cold or flu. A child with the flu should rest and keep warm until their temperature has been normal for 48 hours.

Keep hydrated (drink plenty of fluids) This will help keep your throat moist and replace fluid lost due to a fever and sweating. It will also help to thin mucus. Plenty of water is best, however juice and cordial are fine to drink in small quantities. Avoid tea, coffee and alcohol as they will make you more dehydrated.

Inhale steam (e.g. from inhalations and vaporisers) This may help a blocked nose. Take care not to burn yourself. Do not use with children.

Eat regular healthy meals and soft foodEat plenty of fruit and vegetables and limit foods high in fat, sugar and salt.  Soft foods are easier to swallow. Foods such as chicken soup may help a sore throat and reduce mucous.

Medications A variety of non-prescription medications can help relieve cold and flu symptoms. Some cold and flu medications should not be used by young children, pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, or people with certain medical conditions. Always ask a pharmacist for advice.  

* Simple Pain Relievers (e.g. Paracetamol and Ibuprofen) –Helps relieve headaches, muscles aches, sore throat and pains and fever.  

* Decongestants – May clear a blocked nose. They are available as syrups, tablets, nasal sprays and drops. Nasal sprays and drops should not be used for more than 5 days in a row  

* Antihistamines – may help relieve a runny nose, sneezing and a dry cough  

* Cough suppressants – may relieve a dry cough. Should not be used in a chesty cough where there is mucus.  

* Expectorants and Mucolytic – may loosen and thin mucus in the nose, sinus and airways.  

* Saline (salt water) Nose Sprays or Drops – May help loosen and remove mucus in the nose and sinuses.  

* Gargles and Throat Lozenges – May help soothe a sore throat  

* Vitamins – Vitamin C and Echinacea have proven benefits in helping to beat a cold. Talk to your doctor or health care professional before giving your child vitamins.



A more serious viral or bacterial infection or other medical condition may develop from a cold of flu. For example an ear infection, sinusitis, asthma, bronchitis or pneumonia. Bacterial infections usually require antibiotic treatment.

Consult a doctor if symptoms persist for more than 10 days or if any of the following symptoms develop – high temperature/chills, severe headache, stiff neck, light hurts eyes, skin rash, ear ache, shortness of breath, cough lasting longer than 4 weeks, yellow brown green or blood stained mucus, chest pain, muscle aches, eyes sticky with pus, unusual drowsiness or confusion.


  * Wash your hands every time you touch a tissue, sneeze or cough into your hand, and before cooking and eating. Dispose of used tissues carefully. Avoid sharing eating and drinking utensils.  


* A flu vaccine is available but is not needed by most healthy adults. The vaccine is recommended for adults 65+ Years, and those at high risk of getting influenza such as people with existing health problems, childcare workers and health professionals.  


* Regular exercise, a balanced diet and adequate sleep will help keep your immune system strong.