What is a cold? What is flu?

Colds and flu are both illnesses caused by viruses. Through laboratory research, scientists have found three different viruses that can cause flu, but over 200 different viruses that can cause a cold - sometimes referred to as a ‘common cold’.

How to tell the difference between cold and flu

Without the help of scientific laboratory tests, it can sometimes be very difficult to tell if one is suffering from cold or flu. This is because, although their symptoms do have some differences, there are a lot of similarities too. So let's take a look at them:

Cold symptoms

Flu symptoms

Runny nose - with clear mucus at first then thicker, green mucus as the cold progresses

Fever that may come on suddenly - body temperature can go up to 30-40⁰C (100-104⁰F)

Blocked nose



A dry, chesty cough


Extreme tiredness or exhaustion. Sufferers may feel the need to lie down and rest

Sore throat

Runny nose, sneezing

Fever, tiredness, muscles aches

A headache




One other key difference is the impact of seasonality. While flu tends to be seasonal - during the winter months in most cases – colds can be experienced throughout the year. The reason for this is that flu viruses need different conditions to survive and multiply compared to cold viruses. Also, flu viruses seem to survive longer in dry, cold, winter air.[1]

As you can see, there are some differences, and some similarities, so it's easy to understand why the two illnesses are often grouped together.

Why is it important to know whether it is cold or flu?

Since you may not get all the symptoms at the same time, and also because you can suffer the symptoms to different degrees, telling the colds and flu apart can become even more challenging. For example, colds may be called ‘mild’ or ‘heavy’ colds and a heavy cold may feel more like flu. It is important to find out if you are suffering from a cold or flu because the latter can lead to other more serious conditions, such as pneumonia, and may have to be treated with anti-viral medication prescribed by a doctor. Working out whether it is cold or flu is therefore important for the reasons mentioned above. This is particularly relevant for older people and children.

How to treat colds and flu

If you get a cold or flu, the usual course of action is to try to treat the symptoms. Known as symptomatic relief, it limits the discomfort experienced whilst allowing the illness to run its course. Nurofen Cold and Flu can treat cold and flu symptoms but it is important to visit your doctor if you get severe symptoms.

Nurofen Cold & Flu

Nurofen Cold & Flu provides fast, effective temporary relief from the major symptoms associated with a cold, flu and congestion - and without causing you to feel drowsy. In fact, there’s nothing stronger for your cold and flu pain and congestion than the Nurofen Cold & Flu range.

How does Nurofen Cold & Flu work?

Chemicals in your body, known as prostaglandins, can be released when you are injured or sick. Prostaglandins make nearby nerves sensitive to pain, which helps your body realise that something is wrong. Prostaglandins also make tissues inflamed and swollen. They are one of the reasons why your throat swells up if you are sick and your nose can get blocked when you have a cold or flu. Nurofen Cold & Flu contains Ibuprofen, an NSAID (or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), which targets prostaglandins, blocking their production, leading to symptom relief.

It may not always be essential to tell the difference between a cold and flu in order to treat the symptoms, but you can be assured that with Nurofen Cold & Flu, it's simple to treat the symptoms of either. However, if you are ever in any doubt about the way you are feeling, you should seek professional medical help.


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[1] http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12808-cold-weather-really-does-spread-flu.html#.VT3tBKbt7Ig