Colds vs Influenza (also called the Flu) 

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Over the course of winter, it is very common to get a cold. This information is designed to help manage common cold symptoms at home; and to know when you or someone you know should be seen by a doctor.  

Do I need to be seen? 

Most people who are otherwise well (no chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, etc) who develop a cold will get better themselves in a week or two. Please see the information below on what to take to feel better with a cold. If you feel you do need to be seen, it is helpful if you have started doing these before coming in. 

We recommend that unwell young children, elderly, and those with pre existing medical conditions (for example, asthma, COPD or emphysema, diabetes) are seen whether it seems like a cold or not. These groups are higher risk for bacterial complications (such as pneumonia) and influenza (the flu). 

Do I need antibiotics?

Colds are caused by viruses, so unfortunately antibiotics do not help. Please see information below on how to feel better with a cold. 

Please see the table below to help decide if you need to come in and see a doctor. If you are unsure, please ring and speak with a nurse. 

  A cold (viral infection) Influenza (also viral) Bacterial e.g. pneumonia
Description

Mild illness lasting 1–5 days

Some symptoms, such as a cough, may continue for a few weeks

Moderate to severe illness with sudden onset of symptoms lasting at least 7 to 10 days

The cough and tiredness can last for weeks after the rest of the illness is over

Infection that causes inflammation of the air sacs of the lungs. When infection sets in, the air sacs in one or both lungs fill with pus and fluids, making breathing difficult.
Symptoms

Early signs include:

Sore throat

Sneezing

Running nose

Mild fever.

Even though you may feel tired or have aches, most symptoms are above the neck.

After a few days, snot usually becomes thicker and may turn a greenish or yellowish colour. This is a normal process and does not indicate a bacterial infection.

Muscle pain is uncommon.

Mild headache (congested sinuses).

Sometimes a cough.

Sudden onset of:

fever (usually high, 38–40°C)

Shivering

Muscle aches

Debilitating tiredness

Drenching sweats

Headache (may be severe).

Dry cough may become moist.

Bed rest is necessary.

Cough 

Fever, which may be mild or high

Shaking chills

Drenching sweats

Shortness of breath

Increased effort required to take a breath

Low energy and fatigue

Loss of appetite

Headache

Chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough.

Prevention

Washing your hands frequently

Not coughing over other people

Influenza vaccine (free for those in high-risk groups)

Washing your hands frequently

Not coughing over other people

Washing your hands frequently

Not coughing over other people

Possible complications

Sinus congestion

Ear infection

Bronchitis

Pneumonia 

Sepsis 

Can be life threatening 

What can I do at home for cold symptoms?

Pain and temperature 

  • Regular panadol (2 tablets or 1g, four times per day – maximum four doses in 24 hours – for an adult) 
  • If suitable, ibuprofen/nurofen (2 tablets three times per day with food – for an adult)
  • Sore throats: gargling salt water ; throat sprays from pharmacy 

Sinus pain/headaches

  • Regular panadol (2 tablets or 1g, four times per day – maximum four doses in 24 hours) 
  • If suitable, ibuprofen/nurofen (2 tablets three times per day with food) 
  • Sinus rinses (from pharmacy) (see sinus rinse recipe below)
  • Otrivin nasal spray (only use for 3 days) 

Cough 

  • Lemon and honey 
  • Some cough mixtures may be helpful for a dry cough

Other

  • Keep hydrated. For children, keep offering fluids regularly. 
  • Stay home from work or school if you need to, to recover and to prevent spread to others 
  • Some people find a supplement called Echinacea (available from pharmacies) helpful for staving off colds. 

When should I see a doctor? 

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following symptoms please be seen by a  doctor promptly: 

  • severe headache or neck pain
  • light hurts your eyes
  • drowsy
  • children that are floppy or difficult to wake
  • skin rash
  • high fever (38 to 40°C) that doesn’t come down (especially if you are pregnant)
  • unusual or high-pitched cry.

The influenza immunisation

The influenza vaccine remains your best protection against getting it. Certain groups, such as those with asthma, elderly, pregnant women, etc are eligible for a free injection, as these groups are most at risk of serious complications from influenza. 

The influenza vaccine cannot give you the flu. It is common after a vaccine to feel a little tired and perhaps have a mild temperature. These are signs of your body creating an immunity to the bug in the vaccine, so it can act quickly and efficiently if you come into contact with the bug at another time. The influenza vaccine does not protect against the common cold. 

For further information, please also see these links on antibiotics, colds, and influenza. 

https://www.pharmac.govt.nz/assets/keep-antibiotics-working-tear-off-pad-2018.pdf

https://www.healthed.govt.nz/system/files/resource-files/7622.pdf

https://choosingwisely.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Formatted-Anti-biotics-Coughs-colds-and-sore-throats.pdf

https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/media/3937/cold-or-flu-infographic-health-direct-australia-2016.pdf

Sinus Rinse Recipe and Ingredients

Saline sinus rinses can bring relief to patients with chronic sinus or rhinitis problems without the use of medication.  If you suffer from chronic or acute sinus infections, sinus rinses can be helpful in removing and thinning out excessive mucus. If you have allergic rhinitis, these rinses can bring relief by removing allergens from the nostrils and sinuses. Although easy to use, the rinsing process may seem unusual at first and may take a little getting used to.

Several commercial sinus rinse devices are available without a prescription. They are convenient to use and can be found in most pharmacies. But you can also make your own rinse at home with only three ingredients and at a fraction of the cost.

Saline Rinse Recipe – Ingredients

  1. Pickling or canning salt-containing no iodide, anti-caking agents or preservatives (these can be irritating to the nasal lining)
  2. Baking soda
  3. 1 cup of lukewarm distilled or boiled water

In a clean container, mix 3 heaping teaspoons of iodide-free salt with 1 rounded teaspoon of baking soda and store in a small airtight container.

Add 1 teaspoon of the mixture to 1 cup of lukewarm distilled or boiled water.

Use less dry ingredients to make a weaker solution if burning or stinging is experienced. For children, use a half-teaspoon

Using a soft rubber ear bulb syringe, infant nasal bulb or a commercial nasal saline rinse product from your drug store ( NeilMed sinus rinse kit is good ), use the rinse by following these steps:

  1. Draw up saline into the bulb. Tilt your head downward over a sink (or in the shower) and rotate to the left. Squeeze approximately 4 ounces of solution gently into the right (top) nostril. Breathe normally through your mouth. In a few seconds the solution should come out through your left nostril. Rotate your head and repeat the process on the left side.
  2. Adjust your head position as needed so the solution does not go down the back of your throat or into your ears.
  3. Blow your nose very gently to prevent the solution from going into your ear and causing discomfort.
  4. After using the rinse, you may continue using your prescribed nasal medications as normal. You may notice that they work better.

If having difficulty with above try this – Take a deep breath, then squeeze the bottle while saying, “kay kay kay kay.” Use one bottle per nostril in the morning before nasal sprays and evening . Do not use right before bedtime, please allow 30 minutes to drain completely. Look down at the ground after blowing the nose to allow excess water to drain. There is no need to squeeze the bottle forcefully, and take time to clear/pop the ears.

When sick with a cold, use more frequently (i.e in the morning and dinnertime). Do not use sinus rinses if your nasal passageway is severely blocked. Stop using if you experience pain, nosebleeds or other problems.