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UCD Student Health Service

Colds and Flu

The early symptoms of colds and flu are similar. Colds, however, initially affect only the upper respiratory tract – the nose, throat and upper chest. Expect a cold to last between five and seven days. Flu affects the whole body and symptoms are much more severe. A bout can linger for up to two weeks although the symptoms may ease off after first week.

While a cold might increase your temperature slightly, flu will give you more severe fever, make you feel sweaty and shivery, and make your muscles and joints ache. Headaches and a general feeling of weakness are also common. Flu occurs almost exclusively in the winter months.

If you can still function despite the discomfort, you probably have a cold. With flu, you are more likely to be in bed for at least a couple of days.

Currently pandemic A(H1N1) Swine Flu is the main flu virus circulating.  Please see A (H1N1) Flu Information page on our website.

People with flu-like symptoms who are in "At Risk" groups should seek medical advice.

Catching Colds

Colds and flu are caused by viruses, passed on by spluttering, sneezing or coughing droplets into the air. That is why sealed, stuffy and often crowded buses, trains, offices and schools are ideal breeding grounds for colds and flu during the winter months. You cannot catch a cold by getting wet, sitting in a draught or being out in cold weather. Horrible as it sounds, you can catch a cold only if an infected person coughs or sneezes on or near you and you inhale the tiny virus-laden droplets.

On average, people catch two colds every year. There are estimated to be between 150 and 200 different strains of cold and you never catch the same one twice. Each time you have a cold, your body fights it off and builds up an immunity against that particular strain. When you are in a new environment e.g. starting college you meet a lot of new viruses and may get lots of colds.

Treatment

There is no cure for colds or flu although you may be able to relieve the symptoms. If you have flu take plenty of rest, keep as warm as possible, and drink lots of fluids to replace those lost by sweating. You may need to take pain relieving medicines or tablets for aches or fevers. These may relieve the discomfort, but they will not cure you.

When you buy over-the-counter medication, read the instructions on the pack carefully and do not exceed the maximum dose. If you are on any other medication, check with your doctor or a pharmacist before taking medicines, tablets or a medicated cold remedy.

Paracetamol

Taking more than the recommended dose of paracetamol is dangerous. It can cause very serious liver damage. Many people are not aware that paracetamol is used in most over-the-counter cold and flu remedies, including Lemsip, Beechams Hot Lemon and Uniflu.

If you are taking paracetamol tablets to alleviate the symptoms of cold or flu, ask your pharmacist’s advice before choosing a cold remedy to ensure that you do not take too much paracetamol.

Outside Help

Colds or flu may wear you out and leave your body vulnerable to other viruses or infections.

  • You think you have developed sinusitis or an ear or chest infection.
  • Your temperature is over 40C, or if it has risen over 37.70C for more than 48 hours
  • Severe symptoms last more than three days (two days, or even less, for the young, elderly or chronically ill)
  • You are pregnant
  • You have flu-like symptoms after travelling abroad (may be malaria)
  • Be aware of symtoms and signs of septicaemia (blood infection or meningitis can be similar)

Complications

Colds and flu are viral, not bacterial infections, so they cannot be treated with antibiotics. However, occasionally excess mucus produced during a cold or flu can drain into the sinuses, ears and throat and lead to a bacterial infection.

Immune to Immunity

I seem to catch one cold after another. Why don’t I build up an immunity?

Each time you catch a cold, your body builds up an immunity to that particular strain of cold virus. But as there are about 200 different strains, there is always another one waiting in the wings to infect you again. The reason you catch on after another may be because you are still a bit run down from the last cold, which makes you more susceptible to the next virus that comes your way.

Lemon-Aid

Can over-the-counter remedies such as hot lemon drinks cure colds?

There is no cure for the common cold. Cold remedies do not shorten the length of time you will have a cold, but they may provide relief from uncomfortable symptoms such as sore throat, aching head or runny nose.

Ward Off Colds

Should I take vitamin supplements to ward off colds?

There is no scientific proof that supplements such as garlic and vitamin C prevent colds. However, taken in moderation they will not do any harm. The body cannot store vitamin C so it is important to take it in some form every day. You can take vitamin supplements, or try to include food sources such as oranges, blackcurrants, tomatoes and potatoes in your regular diet.

Sore Throats

There are many causes of sore throats – the commonest being infection. The infection may be either bacterial or viral. The sore throat may be the only symptom or may be accompanied by a head cold or cough.

When you feel a sore throat coming on it is important to begin treating it yourself – Disprin gargles (2 tablets dissolved in water) three times a day is a very effective agent. You should also rest your voice as much as possible and avoid smoking or smoky atmospheres. Take plenty of fluids. A few early nights will help also. Most sore throats will resolve with this management in 5-6 days.

When to see the Doctor

If your sore throat has not resolved after 5-6 days with the above management.
If your sore throat is so sore as to make swallowing extremely difficult.
If you have a persistently raised temperature, despite regular Disprin.
If other symptoms e.g. wheeze in an asthmatic, are troublesome.

How to prevent Sore Throats

It is not possible to prevent sore throats entirely but you can lessen your risk by taking good care of yourself.

  • Ensure that you eat a healthy diet - lots of fruit and vegetables.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Ensure you get enough rest and sleep.
  • Avoid smoky atmosphere, as much as possible.
  • If your throat begins to become sore start treatment with Disprin gargles and rest immediately
student health services
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General Opening Hours
Monday - Friday
9.30am - 12.30pm
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