What are the main flu symptoms?

Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness, Feeling Weak
  • Nausea, Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and Loss of appetite
  • Dry Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Muscle aches
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Shivering

Flu has a sudden onset – The symptoms of flu can come on quickly and unexpectedly, usually starting within 1-4 days of being infected. The symptoms of the flu can also be quite severe, and it is not uncommon to be confined to bed by the illness until you recover.

If you have any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Purple or blue lips
  • Chest pains
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion and/or being drowsy
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Severe headache that is getting worse
  • Stiff Neck
  • Photophobia - not liking  bright lights
  • Coughing up blood

These symptoms are indicators of severe illness – it may be that you have an underlying health issue that is being worsened  by the flu, or that the flu has developed and lead to a  serious health complication. If you display any of the above symptoms, call 999 or go to A&E immediately for emergency medical care.

Can flu symptoms be mistaken for another illness?

Yes, the symptoms of flu can be similar to other illnesses – the flu shares a lot of symptoms with a number of other infections, and is commonly confused with a cold, but can also be confused with more serious illnesses like meningitis.

Symptoms of the flu and a common cold – the flu and the common cold are very commonly confused for one another, as they share a lot of the same symptoms. The main difference between the cold and the flu is the severity of symptoms and how quickly the infection comes on. The flu has a sudden onset and the symptoms are severe, which the cold comes on more gradually and the symptoms are milder. If you’d like to learn whether you have the flu or a cold, read our page on the difference between a cold and the flu.

Symptoms of the flu and meningitis – meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges - the tissue that surrounds the neck and spinal cord - and is a serious medical condition that can be fatal. Both the flu and meningitis can cause tiredness, muscle pain, headaches and nausea, so it can be difficult to tell them apart at first. Viral meningitis can also be caused by the flu, so it possible to have symptoms of both the flu and meningitis at the same time. The telltale signs of meningitis are a stiff neck, severe headaches, and a sensitivity to light. For more information on how to identify meningitis, visit our page on the symptoms of meningitis. 

How long do flu symptoms last?

The flu normally lasts for a week or two – symptoms of the flu come on quite suddenly and severely, but tend to improve over the course of a week, and the more severe symptoms tend to pass in 2-3 days. Even after recovering from most of the symptoms of the flu, you may continue to feel weak and tired for a while as your body fights off the remainder of the infection.

Seek medical advice if your symptoms last longer – if you have been ill with the flu for 7 days and aren’t getting better contact your GP or call NHS 111.

Don’t go back to work until your symptoms are gone – flu can spread very quickly in shared spaces, such as the workplaces, schools, or nurseries. If you have the flu, it is recommended that you should stay at home until you’ve been symptom-free for at least a day without any medication. If you don’t, you may still be contagious and could pass your illness on to others.

Can the flu lead to other illnesses?

The flu can sometimes cause a number of health complications, which include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Pneumonia
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord)
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of brain tissue)

The flu can also worsen a number of pre-existing health conditions, such as:

  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Heart problems

You are more at risk of health complications as a result of flu if you:

  • are 65 years of age or over  
  • are pregnant
  • have a pre-existing health conditions

How can I protect myself if someone else has flu symptoms?

Cleanliness is key – the flu virus can live for up to 24 hours on surfaces, so you can get the flu by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your mouth, nose, or even your eyes. Regularly washing your hands using soap will reduce the likelihood that you will get infected by viruses you’ve picked up from contaminated surfaces. If you live with someone who’s been infected, make sure you keep the surfaces clean for the same reason.

Keep your mouth and nose covered – the flu lives in water droplets, which are expelled into their air when someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes. Making sure to use a tissue, or even your hand, when coughing or sneezing prevents these droplets from spreading and infecting others. Make sure you bin the tissue and wash yours hands as soon as you can too. Encouraging others to do the same will reduce the chances that you’ll catch their illness as well.

Stay away from sick people – the flu spreads easily during close contact with an infected person. It may sound obvious but, if possible, limit your interactions with sick people until they are better or you may end up catching their illness.

Get the flu jab – the flu jab is the most effective way to protect yourself during flu season. While you can’t stop other people from getting sick and spreading the virus, you can take precautions to reduce the chance that you’ll catch the flu. Because the flu virus changes every year, even if you got the flu jab last year you’ll need to get another one this flu season. You can get the flu jab at any Superdrug Health Clinic or Superdrug Pharmacy this flu season.