The Independent Pharmacy

Freshers’ Flu: What It Is & How To Treat It

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

Reviewed on 17 Aug 2022

What is freshers' flu?

“Freshers' flu” is a colloquial term used to describe a variety of illnesses experienced by new students entering university or college for the first time. Though the cases necessarily vary, most involve the flu virus or the common cold.

What causes freshers' flu?

As a new term begins, students from across the country will mix and mingle with each other in lecture halls, common rooms, and dormitories, creating the perfect environment for bacteria and viruses to spread.

While freshers' flu can occur in college, it’s far more prevalent within a university setting.

At the start of a new term, many students move out of their family homes for the first time and travel considerable distances to live in university halls of residence.

Because the immune system struggles to deal with maladies it hasn’t encountered before, it’s likely that these students will contract illnesses that their bodies can’t easily fight off. Overall, then, the two key contributors to the problem of freshers’ flu are close-quarters social activity and unfamiliar illnesses.

What are the most common symptoms of freshers' flu?

If you notice any of the symptoms listed below, you may be coming down with a case of freshers' flu.

How long does freshers' flu last?

Freshers' flu can be unpredictable — for some, the symptoms may be nothing more than a runny nose and a case of the sniffles. However, a rough bout of the illness can easily wreak havoc on your university timetable and put an end to any social plans.

The average case of freshers' flu will last no longer than a week (around as long as you’d expect to deal with a common cold). If your symptoms persist for much longer, and particularly if they get worse, you should consult your GP. If you’ve yet to register with one, you can do so quickly and easily via the NHS GP finder.

Can you avoid freshers' flu?

Unfortunately, if you’re entering college or university for the first time, it’s likely that you’ll catch freshers' flu at some point. These odds are even higher if you’re staying in halls of residence or shared accommodation. Try not to be too concerned, though: the illness is usually mild, passing relatively quickly for the vast majority of people, and your immune system will be more robust upon recovery.

However, if you’re intent on avoiding freshers' flu, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of dodging the illness:

  • Get plenty of rest. While it’s tempting to spend every night clubbing or joining friends for a drink at the students’ union, try to take a few days off throughout the week to give your body time to recover. Instead of heading out, organise a gaming or movie night with your new flatmates and aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night. You’re far less likely to catch any nasty bugs if your body is well-rested.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. If you can eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, it’ll help your immune system fight off invaders before they can cause problems. If you’re too busy to prepare healthy meals every day of the week, you can supplement your diet with multivitamins.
  • Stay hydrated. The first few weeks of university can be hectic, making it easy to forget to drink enough fluids. By drinking plenty of water, you’ll keep your body running smoothly (and help flush out any toxins left over from those heavy nights spent partying and devouring takeaways).

How can you treat freshers' flu?

Generally, the most effective way to combat freshers' flu is to manage your symptoms in the same way you would handle the symptoms of a common cold.

Medicinal treatments for freshers' flu

The general aches and pains caused by freshers' flu can be treated with a variety of over-the-counter medications, all of which can be ordered without a prescription (or following a quick consultation) through The Independent Pharmacy.

For headaches, backaches, or muscle pain, a mild painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen should provide adequate relief (and help to reduce any fever).

For more intense aches and pains, you can try Solpadeine: it pairs paracetamol with codeine, a strong opioid painkiller. Please note that it’s not recommended to drink alcohol when taking Solpadeine Max.

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If you’re struggling with a blocked nose, decongestant medication can help. Pseudoephedrine works by causing the blood vessels in the nose to contract, relieving the pressure in your sinuses. This process reduces inflammation and allows mucus and air to flow, making it easier for you to breathe through your nose. Decongestants are available in tablet form and in nasal sprays.

A cough suppressant can help reduce the cough reflex. Dry coughs can be controlled with these remedies, providing relief from this irritating and uncomfortable symptom which often occurs during a bout of freshers' flu.

Combination medications can be highly effective for fighting freshers' flu. A combination medication can combine a decongestant with a painkiller and a sedating antihistamine to help you get a restful night's sleep. These medications include:

Home remedies for freshers' flu

Aside from the medications mentioned above, there are other ways you can treat freshers' flu. These include:

Hydration. As noted earlier, hydration will help you avoid freshers’ flu, but it’ll also help you treat it. Drinking enough water is vital for maintaining your body’s natural ability to flush out harmful germs and bacteria. The Eatwell Guide recommends drinking between 6 to 8 glasses of water per day. If you’re not a fan of plain water, you can get the hydration you need from sugar-free drinks or herbal teas.

Honey tea. Honey has natural antiviral and antimicrobial properties and can soothe the pain caused by a sore throat. Try mixing a couple of teaspoons of honey with some warm water to create a quick, comforting tea.

A hot shower. The hot steam from a shower can work wonders for your blocked sinuses while washing away any sweat buildup caused by a fever.

Warm salt water. If you’re suffering from a sore throat, try dissolving half a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water and gargling it. This will help to flush out the bacteria in your throat and soothe any irritation.

Plenty of rest. As with hydration, rest will help you dodge freshers’ flu or get over it. Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Sleep helps your immune system function optimally, and should provide you with a greater sense of overall wellbeing.

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