Flu - NHS

Skip to main content

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:

  • a sudden high temperature of 38C or above
  • an aching body
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • a dry cough
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea or tummy pain
  • feeling sick and being sick

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're OK to carry on as normal (for example, go to work)

Could it be coronavirus?

If you have a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, it could be coronavirus (COVID-19).

Get advice about coronavirus symptoms and what to do

How to treat flu yourself

To help you get better more quickly:

  • 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.

Be careful not to use flu remedies if you're taking paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets as it's easy to take more than the recommended dose.

Information:

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

Urgent advice: Get advice from 111 now if:

  • 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 heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
  • you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of chemotherapy or HIV
  • your symptoms do not improve after 7 days

111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.

Go to or call 111.

Other ways to get help

Get an urgent GP appointment

A GP may be able to treat you.

Ask your GP practice for an urgent appointment.

Antibiotics

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

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

  • develop sudden chest pain
  • have difficulty breathing
  • start coughing up 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:

  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
  • bin used tissues as quickly as possible
See how to wash your hands correctly

How to wash your hands

Video about how to wash your hands correctly

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

How to get the flu vaccine

The flu vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine. It's offered every year on the NHS to help protect people at risk of flu and its complications.

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

Who can have the flu vaccine

The flu vaccine is given to people who:

  • are 65 and over (including those who'll be 65 by 31 March 2021)
  • have certain health conditions
  • are pregnant
  • are in a long-stay residential care
  • receive a carer's allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
  • live with someone who's at high risk from coronavirus (on the NHS shielded patient list)
  • frontline health or social care workers

Advice for people aged 50 to 64

If you're aged 50 to 64 and have a health condition that means you're more at risk from flu, you should get your flu vaccine as soon as possible.

Other 50- to 64-year-olds will be contacted about a flu vaccine later.

Where to get the flu vaccine

You can have the NHS flu vaccine at:

  • your GP surgery
  • a pharmacy offering the service
  • your midwifery service if you're pregnant

If you have your flu vaccine at a pharmacy, you do not have to tell the GP. The pharmacist should tell them.

Important

Due to high demand for the flu vaccine, there may be some delays getting a vaccination appointment. Your GP surgery or pharmacy should be able to tell you when more appointments are available.

Information:

Find out more about the flu vaccine:

Page last reviewed: 6 August 2019
Next review due: 6 August 2022