Pharmacist shares how to identify and treat colds, flu and Covid

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Colds, flu and COVID-19 are caused by viral infections of the respiratory system, which are more common during the winter months. As these different infections share several similar symptoms, it can sometimes be difficult to tell them apart. They also need to be treated in different ways.

Superintendent pharmacist at Boots, Claire Nevinson, shared advice on understanding the differences between colds, flu and COVID-19 and ways to help relieve symptoms.

How can I tell if I have a cold, flu or Covid?

“Common symptoms of both cold and flu include a sore throat, blocked or runny nose, sneezing and coughing,” Ms Nevinson said.

“Cold symptoms tend to be milder and usually clear up within a week. In contrast, flu symptoms tend to start more suddenly, be more severe and last longer. Common flu symptoms include a fever, aching muscles and chills.

“The main symptoms of COVID-19 are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and loss or change to your sense of taste or smell, but people can also get other symptoms which are very similar to colds and flu.”

Treating a cold

Ms Nevison explained: “Whilst there’s no cure for a cold, there are several things you can do to help relieve symptoms.”

She recommended:

  • Resting, drinking plenty of fluids and eating a balanced diet, including plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to help relieve pain and fever
  • Using decongestant sprays or tablets to help relieve a blocked nose
  • Medicated throat lozenges can help soothe a sore throat
  • Cough medicine.

“Not all over-the-counter medicines are suitable for everyone, so make sure to talk to your pharmacist or member of the pharmacy team about which treatments will be most suitable for you,” she warned.

Treating flu

Ms Nevinson said: “In most flu cases, there should be no need to visit your GP.

“As with a cold, the best way to recover is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water.

“The same medicines used to relieve the symptoms of cold may also be considered to help relieve the symptoms of flu.

“This includes paracetamol or ibuprofen, which can help to reduce a high temperature and relieve aches and pains.

“Ask your pharmacist or member of the pharmacy team for advice about medicines for flu symptom relief that may be suitable for you.”

Treating Covid

Most people recover from Covid after a couple of weeks but there are several measures you can take at home to help relieve the symptoms.

“If you have a high temperature, it can help to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids (water is best) and if you feel uncomfortable you may wish to take pain relief medicine, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, if it’s suitable for you,” Ms Nevinson said.

“To help with a cough, try sitting upright or lying on your side, rather than your back. Speak to a pharmacist or member of the pharmacy team for advice on cough medicines if you’d like something to help with your symptoms

“If you’re feeling breathless, try your best to relax and take slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth until the sensation eases.

“If you feel your breathlessness is getting worse, go to, call 111 or call your GP surgery for medical advice.”

What can be done to support good immunity?

“A balanced diet rich in vitamins A, B12, B6, C and D will support the normal function of the immune system” Ms Nevinson added.

“If you are struggling to get these vitamins from your diet, supplements can help.

“In fact, the government advises that everyone take a daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter months, as we do not make enough vitamin D from sunlight during this time and cannot get enough vitamin D from food alone.”

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