Season of colds and flu

by Kate Woodford

It’s autumn, the time of the year when colds and flu are everywhere. With so many people coughing and sneezing, we thought it time to take a look at words relating to colds, flu, and their unpleasant symptoms.

When you are starting to suffer from a cold or flu, you might say you are coming/going down with a cold/the flu. You may have an idea where you caught it or picked it up. (Was it from the colleague who sneezed and coughed her way through a meeting with you?). It may be that it was impossible to escape as there are so many coughs and colds going round (= being passed from one person to another).

A cold with particularly bad symptoms may be called a heavy cold, or simply a bad cold. (For added emphasis, some people use the informal phrase, a stinking cold.) On the other hand, a slight cold that affects only the nose may be described as ‘just a sniffle’.

And what about those cold symptoms? A loud, rough cough may be described as a hacking cough. A cough which sounds as if it comes deep from within the chest is a chesty cough. Meanwhile, (I’m sorry, this isn’t pleasant), a cough which brings up a lot of mucus may be described on a medicine bottle as productive. Of course there are other symptoms too. A person with a cold may sneeze repeatedly. They may have a sore throat, a dry throat or a tickle in the throat that makes them feel that they need to cough, even when they don’t. They will probably have a blocked nose, making breathing through the nose difficult or impossible. The more medical noun for this symptom is congestion, the adjective is congested. An informal, British expression meaning ‘congested’ is bunged-up.

A cold sufferer may not have a blocked nose, but instead a runny nose where liquid keeps coming out through the nose. Someone with this irritating symptom may describe their cold as a streaming cold. They will probably have to keep blowing their nose to deal with it.

A cold is bad enough but, of course, flu is considerably worse. Someone with a dose of or a bout of flu will probably be laid up in bed, (= forced to stay in bed because they are so ill). They will have a fever/temperature. If the fever is particularly bad you might say they are burning up. They will almost certainly be off their food (= not at all hungry).

Finally, since colds and flu are only temporary, (we hope!), when the worst symptoms have passed, we might say we are over the worst of it. Here’s wishing you a healthy autumn and winter, with none of the above!

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