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Mother and a toddler with a flue in the kitchen

What Are the Symptoms of Flu and How Long Does the Flu Last?

We’ve all been there before; the piercing headache, the sore throat, the aches and pains. You feel like all you can do is count down the days until you recover from the flu and finally get out of bed.

That’s why we’ve put together some of the most common queries around the flu, so you are equipped with what to do when the flu strikes next. In this article, we will answer such questions as: do I have flu? How long does the flu last? And how can I quicken my flu recovery?

Read on to find out what you need to know about the stages of flu recovery.

What are the symptoms of flu?

Before you resign yourself to a week in bed recovering from flu, you should check your symptoms to determine its severity. Some people suffer with a sore throat for a couple of days, while others are hit with the ghastly combination of fever, stomach pain, and sleepless nights.

The most common influenza (the full name for flu) symptoms to look out for include:

  • High body temperature
  • Aches and pains
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Sudden loss of appetite
  • Stomach pain and/or diarrhoea
  • Nauseous feeling and/or vomiting

What’s the difference between the flu and a cold?

Often, suffering with the flu feels just like having a cold. The main difference is that a cold builds up gradually, whereas flu symptoms can appear very quickly – sometimes even within a couple of hours. A cold is also typically less intense than the flu, meaning you’re less likely to be bed-ridden as a result.

There’s also the £20 note test that can help differentiate between a cold and the flu. It’s pretty simple: if there was a £20 note within easy walking distance, would you get up and retrieve it or would you leave it? People with the flu would leave it, because they feel too ill to move.

To find out more about the difference between cold and flu, as well as how long a cold lasts, take a look at our helpful guide.

How long do flu symptoms last?

So, there’s no doubt about it: you’re sick and bed bound, absolutely floored by the flu. The next question is, how long does it take for flu to go away?

Well, the short answer is that it depends on the severity of your symptoms.

Most people can recover from flu in a one to two days, though more severe symptoms of flu in adults can take up to seven days to pass completely. Bear in mind though, even if your symptoms pass quickly, you will continue to be infectious for up to a week, so it’s always best to play it safe and stay at home until that period has passed.

During your flu recovery time, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids, stay rested, and avoid contact with other people. That means staying off work or working from home until you feel better.  

However, if your condition is just getting worse or your flu symptoms go away and return quickly, we’d recommend speaking to your local GP. You should also arrange a doctor’s appointment if:

  • You’re 65 years old or over.

  • You’re pregnant.

  • You have a weakened immune system – for example, if you’re undergoing chemotherapy.

  • You have a long-term medical condition, such as diabetes or asthma

  • Your flu symptoms are getting worse over time or haven’t improved after a week

  • You develop chest pain, shortness of breath, or start coughing up blood

The NHS offers the flu vaccine to protect people in higher risk groups from getting seriously ill. This vaccine is available from September to February and if you're eligible, you should contact your GP surgery to book an appointment.

How to help flu recovery at home

Now you know how long it takes to recover from flu, it’s all about ensuring you’re as comfortable as possible until you feel better. That’s why we’ve pulled together four flu home remedies that can soften the severity of your symptoms.

1. Sleep as much as your body needs

While you may not be used to snoozing in the afternoon, you can cut down on your flu recovery time by getting as much sleep as possible.

The exhausting symptoms you experience is your body trying to tell you that it’s time to rest, so it’s important that you listen and get back into bed. Sleeping will also help to boost the effectiveness of your immune system, giving you the best chance to fight off the flu sooner.

2. Keep warm

Recovering from the flu can be an uncomfortable experience, especially if you have a fever. However, you should resist the temptation to kick off your covers when your body feels like it’s overheating – you need to keep as warm as possible to aid your recovery.

We recommend taking a paracetamol or ibuprofen to help lower your body temperature (which will also help treat any aches and pains), and then getting comfy under your quilt. If necessary, stick the heating in your home on a temperature that’s more comfortable or wear several layers of clothing, rather than one thick layer.

3. Drink hot liquids

Us Brits don’t need to be told twice to drink more tea – especially when the heat from a comforting mug can help soothe sore throats, blocked noses, and tight chests!

To help soften the symptoms of the flu, we’d recommend opting for a herbal tea that includes ginger. This so-called ‘superfood’ is packed full of essential nutrients that can help with your recovery.

In general, you want to be drinking plenty of fluids to avoid getting dehydrated. A good test to see whether you’re getting enough fluids is to look at your urine colour – if it’s clear or pale yellow, you’re properly hydrated.

4. Eat the right foods

While a loss of appetite is a common symptom of flu in adults, it’s important to nibble on nutritious foods as much as you can.

We’re talking about probiotic-packed yoghurts, vitamin C-rich fruits and veg, and plenty of low-sodium soups. You want to feed your body as many virus-fighting nutrients as possible, while also keeping your energy levels up throughout the day.

Whether you want to learn more about the stages of flu recovery or what are the best foods for colds and flu, Benenden Health always offer the right support and advice. Head over to our Be Healthy hub for more information about your body!

Medically reviewed by Llinos Connolly in March 2024.