Both Colds and flus are caused by a viral infection, contracted by inhaling airborne particles or by the virus coming into contact with the hands and then being ingested. There is no cure for the common cold, but colds will generally get better within a week and the symptoms can be eased with over the counter medicines. Symptoms of a cold include: runny or congested nose, sneezing, headache, earache, cough, sore throat, feeling tired (but not exhausted), feeling hot but temperature rarely raised.

Influenza or 'flu' is a more serious viral infection. It can include cold symptoms but there is also a raised temperature and the person feels weak, exhausted, achy, very unwell, and has a poor appetite. It tends to last longer than a cold and can leave the person feeling run down for weeks after the main symptoms have cleared.

Colds and flus cannot be treated with antibiotics as an antibiotic will have no effect on viruses. Only when a cold or flu becomes complicated by the presence of a bacterial infection will an antibiotic prove useful. An antibiotic can only be prescribed by your doctor.

Getting the flu vaccine is a safe and effective way to help prevent flu, avoid hospitalisation and reduce flu-related illness and death. Did you know that you could receive the flu vaccine for free at your local Mulligans Pharmacy? Find out if you're eligible here.

Is it cold or flu?

Flu symptoms come on suddenly with a fever, muscle aches, headache and fatigue. A cold is a much less serious illness and usually starts gradually with a sore throat and blocked or runny nose.


  • High fever
  • Prominent headache
  • Muscle aches and pains,
  • Extreme fatigue (can last up to 2 – 3 weeks)
  • Exhaustion
  • Chest or throat discomfort/cough – can become severe


  • Slight headache
  • Stuffy/runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Moderate cough


They work by constricting the swollen blood vessels caused by a cold and reducing inflammation of the passages of the nose. This reduces nasal congestion and makes breathing easier. They can be taken orally (by mouth) or topically.
  • Oral decongestants (tablets, capsules and liquid) are stimulants and are not suitable for people with high blood pressure, heart problems, hyperthyroidism and diabetes. Our pharmacists can help you to choose an alternative medicine.
  • Topical decongestants (sprays and drops) are applied directly to the problem area and should not be used for more than 7 days in a row.
  • Inhalations are usually strong smelling oils e.g. menthol, eucalyptus. They can be added to hot water and the vapours breathed in to help ease coughs and clear blocked noses they are useful in patients that are taking other medication. Always refer patients on medication to your pharmacist.


These treat the symptoms of headache, aches and pains and reduce temperature. e.g. Paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen. More info on analgesics can be found under Aches and Pains.


These are added to cold treatments to help dry up secretions and a runny nose caused by a cold. They can cause drowsiness. For this reason, you must not operate machinery or drive while taking antihistamines.
Visit your pharmacist or doctor:
  • If you are taking blood pressure/heart medication or any prescription medication
  • Children under 12.
  • If you are asthmatic or have difficulty breathing
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • If you are suffering with earache or if you have a high temperature
  • Chest pain or difficulty swallowing
  • If you have flu-like symptoms or if you are taking other medication.
Helpful Tips From Mulligans Pharmacy:
  • At Mulligans Pharmacy, we understand that our customers may need treatment for symptoms of a personal or sensitive nature. Our pharmacists are always available for a discreet chat in our private consultation room at your request, or you can ask a Mulligans Pharmacist a question in confidence here.
  • Patients should drink plenty of fluids including hot drinks but not too much tea or coffee as these can dehydrate.
  • Do not take oral decongestants close to going to bed due to their stimulant effect.
  • Antihistamines might be best taken at bedtime due to their potential to cause drowsiness.
  • Aspirin is not suitable for children under 16
  • Ibuprofen can be used for babies over 3 months old.
  • Do not use sprays/drops for longer than 7 days
  • A saline nasal spray is useful for clearing decongestion in patients already taking oral decongestants or those taking other medication.
  • A lozenge or throat spray is useful if patient has a sore throat and is also taking an analgesic.
  • Vitamin C and Zinc may help reduce the duration of the cold symptoms
  • Echinacea helps to boost the immune system and can reduce the incidence of colds.
  • Multivitamins are useful in patients that may have a poor diet or are prone to colds.
Shop Cold, Flu & Allergy Treatments >
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The information provided is intended solely as a guide. Please seek the advice of your pharmacist to determine whether a particular service, medication, or treatment programme will be of value to you. Always check the dosage directions carefully on all medicines. Never combine medicines without consulting your doctor or pharmacist. All health facts and information contained herein should not be a substitute for medical advice. The use of this site is subject to our Terms & Conditions.
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