Woman with a hot honey and lemon drink


Combat cold and flu symptoms with our myth-busting advice

As the flu season descends, learn how to nurse yourself back to health

As we head into the winter months, it is inevitable that most of us will wake up with a sore throat and headache, having fallen victim to the latest cold or worse, winter flu. With both being common during the colder months, it can be difficult to understand which of the two you are suffering from and how to get back to your healthy self as quickly and easily as possible.

To arm you with the facts, we have tackled some of the most common myths surrounding colds and flu.

Woman wrapped up on the sofa holding a tissue to her nose and cup of tea

MYTH 1: Flu is just a bad cold

FACT: Although colds and flu share some of the same symptoms such as a blocked or runny nose, sore throat, headache, sneezing and cough, they are caused by different viruses and flu can be much more serious than a cold. Colds also tend to develop over a couple of days, with symptoms usually dying down after three or four. In comparison, flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include a sudden fever of 39-40°C, muscle aches and pains, sweating, and exhaustion.

Man sneezing in the office

MYTH 2: You can only catch a cold or flu if someone sneezes on you.

FACT: Cold and flu viruses are spread when you breathe in droplets from an infected person who has coughed or sneezed. However, you can also catch a cold or flu by coming into contact with an infected surface or object, such as a handle on public transport, and then touching your eyes and nose.

To protect yourself and others, always cough and sneeze into a tissue, which can be quickly thrown away, and ensure you wash your hands often with warm water and soap.

Woman looking at herself in the mirror with her hair wrapped in a white towel

MYTH 3: If you go outside with wet hair, you will catch a cold.

FACT: Going outside with wet hair will not directly give you a virus such as a cold or the flu as these are spread from contact with those infected. However, it is now believed that you may be able to indirectly catch a cold by getting cold, particularly if you have already been exposed to a cold virus. When you are out in the cold, the blood vessels in your nose narrow and your nose finds it more difficult to flush out any viruses, allowing them to keep multiplying.

Hands with a glass of water and some pills

MYTH 4: Antibiotics are the only way to cure colds and flu.

FACT: Antibiotics are only suitable for the treatment of bacterial infections, so do not work on the viruses that cause colds and flu. You will only be prescribed antibiotics if the cold turns into a secondary infection such as bronchitis or a throat/ear infection. That said, the pediatrician may prescribe antibiotics to your child to prevent those secondary infections, which is maybe where the myth originates from.

Woman sneezing into a tissue

MYTH 5: You cannot catch two colds in a row.

FACT: The common cold can be caused by more than 200 different viruses. Once your cold ends, your body will have built up an immunity against that particular type of virus, protecting you from catching the same one again. However, there may be more than one type of virus circulating at the same time meaning you can catch another one afterwards.

Tips for banishing your cold or flu symptoms

Woman lying in bed reading a book

Whether you have caught a cold or are tackling the flu, there are several steps you can take which will help you recover more quickly.

  • Be kind to yourself and rest up. If you have the flu, it is best to get back under the covers. Fighting the virus can make your body very tired
  • Make sure you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, especially if you have a fever
  • Keep warm by wrapping yourself up and having hot drinks
  • Try to eat fresh and healthy meals . These are not necessarily time-consuming to make and will help to boost your immune system
  • A sign of fever is your body’s way of fighting the virus. However, if you become very uncomfortable take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and help with any aches and pains

If you are suffering from a cold, gentle exercise and fresh air may help to speed up your recovery. Do not forget to ask friends or family members for help if you need it, as the more comfortable you feel, the faster you will be back to normal.

If you are at all worried about your flu symptoms, do not hesitate to seek expert medical advice.
Contact your GP or health visitor if:

  • You are not beginning to feel any better after seven days or your flu symptoms have worsened
  • You are 65 years old or over
  • You are pregnant
  • You have a long-term medical condition such as diabetes
  • You have a weakened immune system