Hangover or something worse? How to tell if you’ve overindulged or you’re suffering Covid, flu or meningitis

YOU’VE woken up to a pounding headache, you feel violently sick and you’re riddled with aches and pains – sound familiar?

While winter bugs and viruses rampage through the population, millions of Brits are enjoying many boozy festive celebrations.


How to tell if you’ve overindulged or you’re suffering Covid, flu or meningitis

Some mornings it can be challenging to tell apart a bad hangover from something more serious, like flu, Covid or even meningitis.

Pharmacist Sultan Dajani, explains how to tell the difference between drinking too much and actual illness – while also pointing out why we should sometimes take our hangovers a bit more seriously.

“With a hangover you are unlikely to get an temperature – that’s one of the biggest differences between a bug and a heavy night out,” Sultan told The Sun.

“Flu, Covid and meningitis are all likely to leave you with a temperature above 37 degrees,” he explained.

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But hangovers can still and often are mistaken for flu as some of the symptoms are very similar, he said.

“A hangover can leave you feeling tired, achy, and even a bit sick – much like a flu.

“But flu can linger for up to two weeks, whereas a hangover will pass in a day or two,” he said.

Covid on the other hand, can also easily be mixed up for flu.

“The coronavirus can also make you feel tired, give you muscle aches, a cough and fever-like symptoms.

“But unlike flu it can also leave you with a runny nose,” he added.

One of the hallmark symptoms of Covid used to be the loss of taste and smell without a blocked nose.

But these signs have changed as the bug has evolved over time.


The best way to know if you have Covid is to take a test – Covid tests are still available to buy from pharmacies for £1-2 each.

The most recent data from the ZOE Health study states that there are 10 symptoms Brits are currently experiencing.

These are:

  1. a sore throat
  2. a runny nose
  3. a blocked nose
  4. sneezing
  5. a cough without phlegm
  6. a headache
  7. a cough with phlegm
  8. a hoarse voice
  9. muscle aches and pains
  10. an altered sense of smell.

Unlike Covid and flu, meningitis is a bacterial infection.

But the dangerous infection is often mistaken for a hangover in the early stages as some of the symptoms overlap, Sultan said.

The bug causes inflammation of the brain and if not treated quickly, can cause life-threatening septicaemia (blood poisoning) and permanent damage to the brain or nerves.

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

The symptoms of meningitis develop suddenly and include:

  • A high fever over 37.5 degrees – the average human temperature
  • being sick
  • a headache
  • a blotchy rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it
  • stiffness, especially in the neck
  • sensitivity to bright lights
  • drowsiness, irritability or lack of energy
  • cold hands and feet
  • seizures

Source: NHS

“Meningitis can leave you very sleepy, achy and feverish.

“But it also gives you a rash and can make you quite delirious which makes it pretty obvious,” the pharmacist said.

And although a hangover is unlikely to leave you feeling unwell for very long, it should not be dismissed, Sultan said.

“In my pharmacy we call hangovers ‘wine-flu’ because we don’t like to disregard them as ‘just hangovers’.

“People can really hurt themselves when drunk and not notice it.

“For instance, that throbbing headache you wake up to in the morning could be concussion if you happened to bang your head.

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“Or a achy back might be from straining it.

“So if a patient comes in with ‘wine-flu’ we do look to check them over to make sure nothing needs further investigation,” he said.

Are you drinking too much?

The NHS recommendation is that adults consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

Most people count their drinks as “one glass of wine” or “a pint of beer”, rather than units, however. 

This test reveals if your drinking is a problem based both on how much you consume, and your behaviour around booze.

For reference, here are some unit examples:

  • A single shot of spirit (for example, a vodka and lemonade): 1 unit
  • Small glass of wine: 1.5 units
  • Bottle of lager/beer/cider 5%: 1.7 units
  • Can of lager/beer/cider 5.5%: 2.4 units
  • Pint of low (3.6%) or high (5.2%) strength lager/beer/cider: 2 or 3 units
  • Large glass of wine: 3 units

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