How to tell the difference between a cold, the flu and pneumonia – pharmacist’s expertise

WHO says 'unknown pneumonia' is on their 'radar'

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Boots has seen a 125 percent increase in sales of cough and cold treatments at the start of the month, while the UK is experiencing a sudden rise in the number of people suffering from the so-called “super cold”. Because of the similarity of symptoms across cold, flu and pneumonia, it can be difficult to distinguish between what condition is troubling you. Here are tips from Marc Donovan, Boots Chief Pharmacist.

Common cold symptoms

A cold is a mild viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways, according to the NHS.

“It usually involves sneezing and coughing, along with a sore throat, headaches and sometimes a loss of taste and smell,” said Donovan.

The cold usually clears up on its own within a week or two.

The Chief Pharmacist suggets using painkillers and nasal sprays to ease symptoms.

Flu symptoms

Flu is caused by a different group of viruses than the common cold, and symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer, the NHS states.

Donovan added: “Flu symptoms can be very similar to the common cold; however, a fever is much more common.

“The cough is usually drier, and aches, pains and fatigue can be much more severe, sometimes lasting for up to three weeks.”

The pharmacist warns that if your symptoms don’t start getting better within seven days or are really severe, you should speak to your GP.

The NHS also offers the annual flu jab, which is free to certain eligible groups.

If you are not eligible, you can book a private flu jab appointment as well.

You can consider opting for the vaccine for extra protection.

Pneumonia symptoms

Pneumonia is the swelling (i.e. inflammation) of the tissue in one or both lungs caused by a bacterial infection or viruses including coronavirus, the NHS reports.

“The symptoms of pneumonia can develop suddenly over 24 to 48 hours, or they may develop more slowly over a few days,” explained the Boots pharmacist.

“Common symptoms of pneumonia include a fever, a cough which can be dry, or it could be a cough with mucus, sweating and shivering or difficulty breathing,” he added.

Difficulty breathing is one of the main symptoms that can help you distinguish between the conditions.

Pneumonia is common during the autumn and winter months.

As ever if you are concerned about your pneumonia symptoms, you should speak with your doctor.

Because of the similarities between these three conditions, you can contact your GP or NHS on 111 for help.

When it comes to prevention you might want to try avoiding contact with sick people, and frequent hand washing is recommended.

Quitting smoking might be also beneficial as it damages your lungs and increases your chance of infection.


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