Flu

Flu will often get better on its own, but it can make some people seriously ill. It's important to get the flu vaccine if you're advised to.

Check if you have flu

Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include:

The symptoms are similar for children, but they can also get pain in their ear and appear less active.

Telling the difference between cold and flu

Cold and flu symptoms are similar, but flu tends to be more severe.

Differences between cold and flu.
Flu Cold
Appears quickly within a few hours Appears gradually
Affects more than just your nose and throat Affects mainly your nose and throat
Makes you feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal Makes you feel unwell, but you still feel well enough to do your normal activities

How to treat flu yourself

If you have flu, there are some things you can do to help get better more quickly.

Do

  • rest and sleep

  • keep warm

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains

  • drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (your pee should be light yellow or clear)

A pharmacist can help with flu

A pharmacist can give treatment advice and recommend flu remedies.

Do not take paracetamol and flu remedies that contain paracetamol at the same time as it's easy to take more than the recommended dose.

Call a pharmacy or contact them online before going in person. You can get medicines delivered or ask someone to collect them.

Information:

Antibiotics

GPs do not recommend antibiotics for flu because they will not relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

You or your child have symptoms of flu and:

  • you're worried about your baby's or child's symptoms
  • you're 65 or over
  • you're pregnant
  • you have a long-term medical condition – for example, diabetes or a condition that affects your heart, lungs, kidneys, brain or nerves
  • you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of chemotherapy or HIV
  • your symptoms do not improve after 7 days

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if you:

  • get sudden chest pain
  • have difficulty breathing
  • start coughing up a lot of blood

How to avoid spreading the flu

Flu is very infectious and easily spread to other people. You're more likely to give it to others in the first 5 days.

Flu is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

To reduce the risk of spreading flu:

Try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities.

See how to wash your hands correctly

Video: how to wash your hands

Watch this video to find out the best way to wash your hands.

Media last reviewed: 30 March 2020
Media review due: 30 March 2023

How to get a flu vaccine

Flu vaccines are safe and effective. They're offered every year on the NHS to help protect people at risk of flu and its complications.

The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn before flu starts spreading. But you can get vaccinated later.

Information:

Find out more about the flu vaccine:

Page last reviewed: 5 September 2022
Next review due: 5 September 2025