Symptoms of the Flu

Influenza (The Flu)

As the days get colder in the winter months, cases of influenza tend to rise. Yet there is often confusion about this disease, with many people confusing it with other diseases, such as the common cold. In this resource, we’ll look at the flu, its symptoms, and what to do if you or a loved one has contracted it.

What is the Flu?


The flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses. It affects the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs.

While milder cases of the flu can give symptoms very similar to a common cold, flu can, and often is, far more severe. The flu can even be life-threatening for some people, such as older people or those with compromised immune systems.

Symptoms of the Flu


There is a lot of misinformation about vaccines spread online. Getting your information from medical professionals and trusted organisations such as the NHS and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is essential.

  • High fever or chills

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Persistent dry cough

  • Sore throat

  • Headaches

  • Severe fatigue

  • Nasal congestion

  • Occasionally, diarrhoea or stomach pain

Children often have different flu symptoms; for example, they may get diarrhoea but not a fever.

While the symptoms are similar to the common cold, there are ways to help tell these two diseases apart.

The Flu Colds
Appears rapidly – Usually within a few hours Appears gradually
Affects more than just your nose and throat Affects mainly your nose and throat
Makes you feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal or leave the house Makes you feel unwell but still able to do everyday activities

Treating the Flu at Home


While the flu can make you feel very unwell, for most people, it is best to stay at home and treat the symptoms from there. In most cases, a doctor won’t be able to offer you treatment beyond commercially available painkillers, and staying at home helps prevent the spread of this highly contagious disease to others.

How to Combat the Flu:


  • Get plenty of rest to help your body fight the infection.

  • Stay warm and avoid exposure to cold temperatures.

  • Use paracetamol or ibuprofen to alleviate fever and aches.

  • Drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated.

  • Only use over-the-counter cold remedies as needed, carefully following the instructions.



Please note that antibiotics will not work for the flu or other viral infections. Taking antibiotics for the flu is strongly discouraged by doctors, as it will not make you feel better or speed up your recovery. In fact, in many cases, it can slow your recovery and make you feel sicker.

When Should You See a Doctor for the Flu?


Medical advice is essential if:

  • Symptoms persist beyond a week.

  • You belong to a high-risk group, such as older people, pregnant individuals, or those with chronic conditions.

  • You experience severe symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or extreme weakness.

Flu Vaccinations


Flu vaccinations are by far and away the best way to fight the flu, as they significantly reduce your chances of contracting the disease by preparing your immune system to fight the virus.

  • Annual shots are crucial as flu viruses evolve.

  • They're especially recommended for the young, elderly, pregnant, or chronically ill.

  • Vaccines can reduce symptom severity if you do get sick.

  • Common side effects are mild and short-lived, like soreness at the injection site.

  • Vaccines are available at doctor's offices, clinics, and some pharmacies.

Remember, the flu vaccine can't cause the flu, and it's your best protection from catching it.

Who Can Have the Flu Vaccine Through the NHS?


The flu vaccine is given for free by the NHS people who:

  • Are aged 65 and over (including those who will be 65 by 31st March 2024)

  • Have certain health conditions

  • Are pregnant

  • Are in long-stay residential care

  • Get a carer’s allowance or are the primary carer for someone, for example, an older or disabled person at risk.

  • Live with people who are more likely to get the disease due to a weakened immune system. For example, someone who has had a transplant, is receiving specific cancer treatments, is living with HIV, or suffers from lupus.

Flu vaccines are also available from many pharmacies such as 7 Day Chemist to people who do not meet the criteria above but still feel they would benefit from a flu vaccine. However, please be aware that there will be a small fee, typically between £9 - £20. 

Vaccines are still the best way to protect yourself against the flu, even if you are not especially vulnerable or pose a risk to someone who is. 

If you would like to book a vaccine or you want to talk to a doctor about the flu, please don’t hesitate to reach out and contact your GP surgery. If you aren’t yet registered for a GP and live in London, you can register with a GP practice near you any time by clicking here.

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