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Common cold or influenza?

Every time I see my doctor he advises me to have a flu vaccination. These are normally available from October onwards. I didn’t even get a chance to stop this year’s flu. I caught it on the last day of September.

I thought it was just a cold; both colds and influenza are caused by similar viruses. They both give you a runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, sore throat and a headache.

You immune system produces a response to the virus that includes attacks on it by lymphocytes, which are the challenger tanks of the immune system. Unfortunately, as well as blasting the virus, they also make your nose and throat very sore.

There isn’t much you can do once you have a cold except take paracetamol or ibuprofen and keep using disposable tissues. I did find some cough sweets that eased my throat a little. I took vitamin C too, but it’s unlikely that helps much; research has shown that it can help prevent colds and flu, but not cure them. There is some evidence that vitamin D can prevent flu as well.

So how do you tell if you have flu, rather than just a cold? I have had a high temperature, chesty cough and aches and pains for about 5 days now. The strange thing about flu is you can’t bend down to pick something up off the floor, it sends you quite woozy. Flu lasts longer than a cold too and is more severe. Most people can continue their normal routine with a cold, but flu often needs you to go to bed to help control the shivers. I did take a warm shower last night, but despite having the heating on, getting out of the shower was like a near death experience. I quickly dried me and got into bed. I did have the sense to have a warm bed ready.

Flu can also cause stomach upsets and diarrhoea. Strangely enough, my digestive system is behaving itself, but my friend who I think I caught it from does have digestive problems. He did have the flu vaccination, so that might be sparing him the fever and the aches and pains. It took about 2 days after I was infected for the symptoms to begin and I’m now on day five of the symptoms, so I’m over the worst. I still have a temperature, but I’m coping with that by taking paracetamol every 6 hours.

I think most people will carry on as normal with a cold, but perhaps try to stop the spread of it by using tissues and washing their hands. Flu is more serious and avoiding other people altogether is probably a good idea. I haven’t had any contact with anyone since my symptoms began.

Have you had the flu recently? Please share your experience in the comments box. You can also follow me on Twitter.

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