sharing some guidance on how to understand the differences between colds, flu and COVID-19 and ways to help relieve symptoms.  

How to identify and relieve symptoms of a cold, flu and COVID-19 

Sunday 10th Dec 2023 |

Colds, flu and COVID-19 are caused by viral infections of the respiratory system, which are more common during the winter months. Because they share several similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell these infections apart.  

To help, Boots Superintendent Pharmacist Claire Nevinson is sharing some guidance on how to understand the differences between colds, flu and COVID-19 and ways to help relieve symptoms.  

How can I tell if my symptoms are due to a cold, flu or COVID-19? 

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

“Cold symptoms tend to be milder and come on gradually. People usually start to feel better within a week or two. 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.” 

How can I relieve cold symptoms? 

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

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 

Taking cough medicine may help, but it’s important to select a product that’s suitable for your symptoms 

Using decongestant sprays or tablets to help relieve a blocked nose 

Sucking medicated throat lozenges can help soothe a sore throat 

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

relieve symptoms of a cold

How are flu symptoms managed? 

“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 a cold are also considered to help relieve the symptoms of flu. Ask your pharmacist or member of the pharmacy team for advice about medicines that may be suitable for you.” 

How can I look after myself with COVID-19? 

“Most people with COVID-19 will feel better within a few weeks and the same medicines used to relieve the symptoms of a cold are also considered to help relieve the symptoms of COVID-19.  

“However, there are several measures you can take to help relieve COVID-19 symptoms specifically: 

To help with persistent coughing, try sitting upright or lying on your side, rather than your back. Consider cough medicine to help provide some relief. 

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 111.nhs.uk, call 111 or call your GP surgery for medical advice. If you are really struggling with your breathing, call 999 or go to A&E. 

“If you think you may have COVID-19, have a high temperature and don’t feel well enough to do your normal activities, you should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people. You can go back to normal activities when you feel better or do not have a high temperature.” 

What can be done to prevent cold, flu and COVID-19? 

“There’s no way to completely avoid the risk of catching a cold, flu or COVID-19. However, my top advice would be to practice good personal hygiene and regularly wash your hands, eat a balanced diet, keep hydrated, get plenty of sleep, manage your everyday stress levels and exercise regularly.  

“Additionally, flu and COVID-19 vaccinations are the best way to help keep yourself and others protected from these viruses this winter and I encourage you to get these jabs if you are eligible on the NHS.” 

At Boots, customers can find products and advice to help them manage cold, flu and COVID-19 symptoms. Boots also offers the free NHS flu jab at most of its stores.* 

Products that can relieve symptoms** 

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Boots Dual Defence Nasal Spray, 20ml, £6.25  Can help reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu-like symptoms when used at the first signs. Pharmaceuticals Mucus Cough Relief, 150ml, £3.99 Contains guaifenesin, which is used to relieve mucus coughs without causing drowsiness. 
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Vicks VapoRub, Relief of Cough, Cold and Flu Like Symptoms, £5.25  For relief of cold and flu like symptoms.  Boots Paracetamol 500mg Tablets 16 Tablets, £0.49  For relief of pain and fever. Do not take more than one paracetamol-containing product at a time. 

*The free NHS (or other locally funded) flu jab is available in most Boots pharmacies in England and Wales and in some Boots pharmacies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Jersey. Also available in our Isle of Man pharmacy. Eligibility criteria apply and vary with locality. Subject to availability. Some people who do not meet the requirements for a free NHS (or other locally funded) flu jab in pharmacies can access the flu jab from their GP or in Scotland, at a vaccination centre. Speak to a member of our pharmacy team or see boots.com/flu for more details. 

**Products selected do not constitute Boots Pharmacist endorsement. Always read the label.