Most healthy people can fight off cold and flu by resting, drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and taking over the counter medications to relieve the symptoms.
Colds and flu are viral infections, so antibiotics won’t help.
A cold will generally last for about a week in adults and older children, or up to two weeks in younger children. Colds are contagious during the first three days, so it is best to stay home and rest up. There is no need to visit your doctor unless your cold hasn’t improved in about a week, in which case it could be allergies, or a bacterial or sinus infection. A nagging cough could also be a sign of asthma.
Flu symptoms peak after two to three days and you should begin to feel much better after about a week, although you may feel tired for much longer. You should see a doctor if you have flu-like symptoms and you:
- Are 65 or over.
- Are pregnant.
- Have a long-term medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney or neurological disease.
- Have a weakened immune system.
This is because flu can be more serious for you, and your doctor may want to prescribe antiviral medication. This can lessen the symptoms of flu and shorten its duration, but treatment needs to start soon after flu symptoms have begun to be effective.
What type of cold and flu medication do I need?
- Aches, pains and fever: Paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin (adults only) can relieve aches, pains and fever, either on their own or as part of combination cold and flu remedies.
- Congestion: Try decongestant tablets containing phenylephrine or if necessary pseudoephedrine, or nasal sprays containing xylometazoline or oxymetazoline. Saline sprays/washes are a great, natural alternative, especially in children.
- Runny nose: An antihistamine such as diphenhydramine can help to dry up nasal secretions, but they may cause drowsiness.
- Dry cough: Pholcodine or dextro-methorphan are cough suppressants that help by blocking the natural coughing reflex.
- Chesty cough: Use a cough expectorant such as guaifenesin or ipecacuanha to help prevent the secretions from sticking in the airways, making phlegm and mucus looser and easier to cough up.
- Coughs in children under 12 years: Give a simple cough syrup containing glycerol, honey or lemon, or a give a warm drink of lemon and honey.
If you are unsure which medication you need or if a particular medicine is suitable for you, talk to your pharmacist who will be happy to help.