Colds and Flu
Colds are inevitable in the winter season, but many people also suffer from them as the seasons turn. We have all experienced the symptoms, which often start with a dry (raspy and sore) throat, leading on to other symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose, blocked nose and headache.
The common cold lasts for a few days – around 5 to 7, and there is no cure. The nasal passages and throat get infected by viruses that keep changing every year, so it is hard to develop a cure. Your own immune system is your best defence. Recovery is helped by resting in bed, drinking plenty of fluids such as water, fruit juice or soup, and not smoking (this is a good time to quit, so ask your Self Care pharmacist about the Quit Smoking fact card).
Colds are not serious for healthy people. People often, mistakenly, think that antibiotics will treat a cold. They won’t because they don’t work on viruses, which is what is causing the cold. Antibiotics will be useful for a cold only if you develop a secondary bacterial infection - like a chest or sinus infection.
So when you have a cold, don’t go to the doctor expecting to get a prescription for antibiotics. Doctors are often cautious about prescribing antibiotics as colds are not bacterial infections and due to concerns about bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics, then prescriptions for antibiotics may be withheld.
A cold or the flu?
People often refer to a cold as the flu (influenza). While it is caused by viruses and, like the common cold, spread by coughing and sneezing, the flu is a more serious and severe infection. It comes on very quickly and often will be accompanied by very sore and achy muscles, and a high fever. The flu also tends to last longer than a cold (about 1-3 weeks).
Flu vaccinations are the way to guard against getting the flu, but you need a new vaccination each year because the viruses keep changing - making the past year’s vaccine ineffective against current flu ‘bugs’. Accredited pharmacists are now able to administer the flu vaccine in the pharmacy for your convenience.
Speak to your Self Care Pharmacist or see the Fighting Colds and the Flu fact card for more information.
Treating the common cold
Although medicines can’t cure the common cold they can help relieve symptoms, especially when you are feeling miserable and having trouble sleeping at night. Self Care pharmacists can help you choose the right medicine for your symptoms. “Lozenges or gargles are available for sore throats,” recommend Self Care pharmacists. “Decongestant tablets, nose drops, nasal sprays or steam inhalations can help a blocked nose, particular antihistamines can relieve a streaming nose associated with a head cold, and paracetamol and ibuprofen reduce fever and relieve head ache. Cough suppressants can help dull a dry irritating cough. Other cough medicines can help loosen phlegm.”
Products with many different ingredients are available to treat more than one symptom at a time. “It can be a bit confusing” advise Self Care pharmacists, “so it is best to ask us for advice”.
Take care with the products you use
Taking products with lots of different ingredients also makes it easy to double-up on medicines without realising. The most common example is cold preparations containing paracetamol for pain and fever when you are already taking paracetamol on its own for headache. Check with your pharmacist first if you are unsure. Also check with your pharmacist in regard to any regular medication you have been prescribed.
And a very important warning!
Do not give cough and cold medicines to children under 6 years of age. Current research shows they aren’t always effective, and can cause harm. Children with colds should be allowed to rest, made to feel comfortable and be given plenty of fluids. In some cases it may be appropriate to give saline nose drops, or to give honey drinks to children over one year of age to soothe a cough.
Talk to you Self Care pharmacist about this, and about what alternatives are helpful for children and babies and ask for the “Coughs and Colds” fact card as well as “Fighting Colds and the Flu” fact card.
Prepared by Pharmacy Self Care, Pharmaceutical Society of NZ Inc, Grand Arcade Tower, level 10, 16-20 Willis St, Wellington 6142.