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Health & Relationships

Freshers’ flu: Causes, symptoms and cures

Got a sore throat, pounding head and high temperature? You could have a case of freshers' flu. Here's how to get through it.

Party and man with cold

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Chances are you'll probably come down with a case of the 'freshers' flu' at least once during your time at university. And, as the name suggests, most likely during your first few weeks.

While freshers' flu obviously isn't the end of the world, it's not the most convenient time to get sick. You have so much going on, so many new people to meet and so many nights out to go on.

If you're determined to do everything you can to avoid catching it, or you're already infected and looking for the holy grail of cures, this is the guide for you.

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What causes freshers' flu?

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Not to suggest that you're being dramatic or anything, but we should clarify that freshers' flu isn't really a form of flu at all. It's actually more like a bad cold, although this doesn't take away from the fact it can make you feel really rubbish for a week or so.

The dreaded illness is a mixture of physical and psychological factors, which together batter away at your immune system and make you feel rotten.

Contrary to popular belief, you won't just be vulnerable to freshers' flu if you kiss loads of new people during freshers' week (although that will probably increase your chances of falling ill). Freshers' flu is normally caused by a combination of a few different things, including:

  1. Mingling

    You will likely be meeting loads of new people from all over the place, be it in bars, university classes and other contained environments.

    As you'll be meeting people from all over the country (and the world), some may be carrying viruses that you're not immune to.

  2. Lack of sleep

    We know, there are so many events going on that you simply can't afford to miss. But if we were your parents, we'd be telling you that you're burning the candle at both ends. We're not your parents, but we'll tell you that anyway.

    Partying every night and then going to early morning lectures the next day won't do your immune system any favours. Taking a night or two off the sauce won't hurt you, we promise.

  3. Eating junk food

    Whether it's due to the accumulation of ever-so-cruel hangovers or just the fact that you can't be bothered to cook, eating loads of junk food and takeaways will only make you feel worse. Get some decent food down you and give your body a chance to defend itself!

  4. Alcohol

    Drinking too much alcohol will weaken your defence against viruses. Maybe that next round isn't such a good idea after all. Tea, anyone?

  5. Stress

    Moving to a new place or being thrown into a completely new environment can be stressful in all sorts of ways. Whether you're feeling homesick or worried about making friends, don't ignore how you're feeling as it will only make you feel worse.

As you might have noticed, a lot of these causes are kind of unavoidable during freshers' week. So unless you resign yourself to hiding in your room for the foreseeable future, there's nothing you can do to completely protect yourself.

But, just being aware of some of the causes and avoiding them if and when you can is a step in the right direction.

Freshers' flu symptoms

tissue box

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How do you know if you have a dose of the freshers' flu? Well, if you do, chances are you'll already know about it.

Just in case you're unsure, here's a list of the most common freshers' flu symptoms:

  1. Shivering

    Do you feel so cold that you've become permanently attached to your duvet, central heating and knitwear collection...?

  2. Fever

    Are you also so hot that you want to stick your entire body into a bath of ice cubes? As a precaution, it's probably worth getting tested for coronavirus if you have a fever.

  3. Dry cough

    A big turn-off if you're looking for love during freshers' week – particularly if it's new and persistent.

  4. Sneezing

    At least people will be blessing you left, right and centre.

  5. Headache

    Scrap that, you don't want to communicate with anyone right now.

  6. Grogginess

    Fair play on managing to get this far on the list of symptoms. Bear with us, cures are next!

As you can see, the symptoms are much like a common cold. While freshers' flu is really not fun to have, just know that it will soon be over and you'll be back to living uni life to the full.

Now on to the cures!

While you may well just have freshers' flu, bear in mind that it could be something worse. Have a look at the NHS' info on meningitis and make sure your vaccinations are up to date.

Freshers' flu cures


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Here are the best ways to recover from freshers' flu quickly:

  1. Eat healthily

    Eating healthily may sound like common sense, but it's still an important one to stress.

    If you've got loads of vitamin C in your system and get your regular fix of fruit and veg, you'll give your body a fighting chance. For advice on what to eat, have a look at the Ultimate Health Food Guide (one of the handy student websites in our guide).

  2. Drink lots of water

    Keep yourself hydrated so you're constantly flushing out all of those freshers' flu toxins from your weakened body.

  3. Take paracetamol

    This isn't a cure as such, but it will help to make the symptoms a little more bearable (so it feels like a cure).

  4. Take a Berocca

    If you don't think your diet's quite up to scratch and you squirm at the sight of broccoli, you can also get some essential vitamins by taking supplements like Berocca (or the shop's own-brand version – basically the same product, but for less money!).

  5. Get to bed

    Now is the time to get tucked up, make sure you're getting enough sleep and de-stress. Taking one or two nights off from socialising will do you wonders. And it also prevents you from passing your dreaded lurgy on to some other poor unsuspecting fresher.

  6. Stop smoking

    Cigarettes are nasty to your immune system, and they definitely don't help a sore throat either. Obviously stopping is a lot easier said than done, but fortunately, we've got a guide on how to quit smoking to help you through.

  7. Step up your hygiene

    As we mentioned, lots of people and crowds mean lots of germs around. Get some antibacterial hand sanitiser on the go to keep your hands clean at all times.

  8. Look after your mental health

    It bears repeating – there's a lot about freshers' week and starting uni that can be stressful. Don't be afraid to admit to yourself that you need some time out, and use our tips on looking after your mental health for some advice on keeping a level head.

Hoping for a uni romance? See the best free dating sites and apps.

Alternative freshers' flu cures

Man wrapped in green blanket with mug

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If you're looking for alternative ways to cure freshers' flu, here are some great options:

  1. Eat lots of garlic

    Garlic is a natural antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. It's basically the superhero of alternative cold medicines (and will keep away those pesky vampires too).

  2. Drink hot drinks

    This will offer you a bit of comfort while also loosening any of the gross stuff in your throat. Chopped ginger and lemon in hot water is a surefire winner!

  3. Eat some Soothers

    Lozenges like Soothers or Strepsils can help to soothe your sore throat.

  4. Meditate or do yoga

    Taking some time to unwind can help you feel a bit better.

  5. Chicken soup

    This is a granny's age-old remedy. We can't say for sure whether it really works or not, but it's certainly worth a go and can make you feel all warm inside. Plus, it tastes great, so it's a win-win situation.

Get well soon! And if you're on the hunt for some tips on making it through your first few weeks at uni, check out our freshers' survival guide.

Jem Collins

WRITTEN BY Jem Collins

Jem Collins, founder of Journo Resources, is an experienced journalist who has written for the i, Metro and more. For Save the Student, she's shared tips on topics related to careers, health, saving money and more.
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