With the flu season here and the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, the US may soon face two epidemics simultaneously. 

In December 2019, we caught a glimpse of what could happen when influenza and the coronavirus eventually overlap. As we learn more about COVID-19, health experts warn that a ‘twindemic’ could have disastrous consequences for both the public health system and the general health of millions.

Woman with flu

The good news is that many of the steps we already take to protect ourselves from COVID-19 are the same steps we must take to keep ourselves safe from the flu. To provide comfort to those who need it most, we have broken down the causes of a cough, flu, and chest infection, and how they can be avoided this winter.

Who is most at risk of a cough, chest infection or the flu?

As the temperature drastically drops in the winter, temperature-related health problems begin to rise. Needless to say, some individuals are much more vulnerable to the effects of the cold winter weather than others. This includes: 

  • People aged 65 and older
  • Babies and young children under the age of 5
  • Pregnant women
  • People who have a long-term health condition
  • People with a disability

What causes a cough?

As you may already be aware, there is usually no need to seek medical help if you have a common cough. While they can certainly be frustrating, coughing is a way in which our body gets rid of foreign irritants, microbes, mucus, bacteria and particles.

Coughs are commonly caused by a cold or flu, although they can also be caused by:

  • Allergies such as hay fever
  • Asthma
  • Smoking
  • Infections including bronchitis
  • Heartburn (acid reflux)
  • Postnasal drip

A cough is very rarely a sign of something serious. However, a new, continuous cough could be a sign of COVID-19. Find out more here. If you are concerned that this is the case, it is important to remain at home and contact your doctor as soon as possible.

How to treat a cough

If you have a cough, you should drink plenty of fluids (preferably water) and get plenty of rest. Sipping a hot lemon and honey drink can also be used to soothe a cough and keep you warm, although it is not suitable for babies under one year old. 

If your cough is severe or is triggered by a medical condition, consider speaking to a pharmacist about cough syrup, cough drops or cough medicine containing codeine. Although these will not stop your cough, they may help you cough less frequently.

Have a persistent cough that is quickly getting worse, or feeling very unwell? Seek medical attention.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

While the flu will generally get better on its own, it can be a serious illness if you are living with a long-term health condition. That is why it is important to know the symptoms so that you can treat it accordingly.

Flu symptoms include:

  • A sudden high temperature (100.4°F or higher)
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • A dry cough
  • A sore throat
  • A headache
  • An aching body
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea

Given that some of the symptoms of the flu are similar to COVID-19, it can be difficult to tell them apart based on their symptoms alone. Testing may be necessary to help confirm a diagnosis.

Man in bed with cold or flu

How to treat the flu

To quickly recover from the flu, you must keep warm, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and get plenty of rest. If your temperature is high or your body is in pain, you may want to consider taking painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen. If your doctor prescribes flu remedies such as Tamiflu, do not continue to take paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets as it is easy to take more than the recommended dose.

If you have a long-term medical condition and you are eligible for a free flu vaccine, it is recommended that you do not put it off. A flu vaccine will protect you against the main types of flu viruses and is offered every single year. If you have had COVID-19, do not worry – it is still considered safe to have the flu vaccine and it will be just as effective at preventing the flu. Bear in mind that the demand for a flu vaccine may be greater this year due to the pandemic, so make sure you book an appointment as soon as possible.

What are the symptoms of a chest infection?

A chest infection is an unpleasant respiratory infection that often follows a particularly bad cold or flu. The most common symptoms of a chest infection are:

  • A chesty cough, typically with green or yellow mucus
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath and wheezing
  • A high temperature
  • A headache or a migraine
  • Aching muscles
  • Fatigue

A sudden continuous cough, a high temperature, and a change in/loss of your sense of taste and smell are all signs of COVID-19. If you experience any of these, get tested immediately.

How to treat a chest infection

While chest infections tend to get better on their own within 7 to 10 days, the cough and mucus can last anywhere up to three weeks. If you are showing signs of a chest infection, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water to loosen any mucus, and take painkillers if you are able to in order to lower your temperature. To clear the infection from your lungs, speak to a pharmacist about over-the-counter drugs such as decongestants.

How to avoid spreading the flu and chest infections

As with COVID-19, the flu and chest infections can spread very quickly and very easily. If you or your friends or family have flu-like symptoms, it is recommended to stay at home or use a face covering when visiting someone who is sick. If you have a cough, cover your mouth and throw away any used tissues as soon as you can before washing your hands with hot water and soap or sanitizer. If you do not have any tissues at hand, cough into your elbow to reduce the spread of germs.

To prevent catching a cold or the flu in the future, it is important to take care of your immune system all year round.

How Medix can help

At Medix, we are equipped with the pharmaceutical knowledge necessary to assist you in choosing the most suitable medication for coughs, the flu and chest infections. Our specialist team has an extensive background in healthcare and is able to deliver medicine for a fraction of the cost you would typically pay in a physical pharmacy.

For further information, get in touch today on 1-866-500-6633 (toll-free phone number), +44 1438 500111 (international phone number), or leave your details and we will contact you as soon as possible.