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Cold & Flu

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A Brief Guide To Cold & Flu

What is the difference?

Colds & flu (influenza) are both caused by around 200 and 3 different viruses respectively, with flu being much more serious. As the majority of cases of cold and flu are viral, antibiotics will not help to treat them and unless you fall in a risk category, such as people over 65 or those suffering with heart or chest problems, kidney or liver disease or diabetes. If you are in an at-risk category or suffer with severe symptoms of flu you should see your GP.

What are the symptoms?

A common cold will have symptoms that include:

  • Cough (dry or productive/chesty)
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion/blocked nose
  • Runny nose

Flu will often have some of the symptoms above, however people who suffer with flu will also experience one or more of the following:

  • Fever (38 – 40°C)
  • Aching/sore muscles
  • Sweats
  • Tiredness


Pain and fever can be treated using products containing simple painkillers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin. They all act to relieve pain and reduce fever and as such should be the basis for all cold and flu remedies. Remember that ibuprofen and aspirin are not suitable for everyone so read the packaging of any product carefully before taking.

Congestion can make you feel run-down and miserable, however there many different options for treating it. Decongestants are the most common type of treatments that act to widen the nasal passages and relieve congestion. Ingredients such as phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine are available to take on their own in brands such as Sudafed, Actifed or Sinutab, or in combination products such as Lemsip and Beechams. Decongestant nasal sprays are also available for topical relief of congestion.

Cough is often the most troublesome symptom of cold and flu. Depending on your symptoms you may suffer with a dry and tickly or a chesty, productive cough. A dry, tickly cough is treated using a cough suppressant that dampens the cough reflex and soothes the throat. Examples of dry cough treatments include pholcodeine and dextromethorphan, which are included in most dry cough remedies such as Benylin, Covonia and Robitussin.

A chesty, productive cough is identified by the presence of catarrh or mucus on the chest that your lungs try to bring up with deep, hacking coughs. Ingredients such as guaifenesin help to break up mucus, making it easier to clear and stopping the cough. It is included in most chesty cough remedies and some combination products.

Using the above information you can make an informed choice when selecting a combination product such as Lemsip, Beechams or Night Nurse to ensure that you get the best treatment for your symptoms.

There are a number of products available that many take to help prevent or shorten the duration colds and flu such as vitamin C, zinc, and Echinacea. These can be useful for those who cannot take standard cold and flu remedies or wish to supplement their medicinal treatments.

Stopping the spread

Colds & flu are contagious and can be spread by those suffering in droplets from sneezing and coughing. It is possible for the droplets to be inhaled or transferred into the eyes or nose via the air or hands. You can help to prevent the spread of cold and flu by following good hygiene advice such as:

  • Always sneeze/cough into a tissue
  • Dispose of a tissue as soon as it is used
  • Wash or sanitize your hands as soon as possible after sneezing/coughing
  • Get a flu jab if you are in an at risk category

The Independent Pharmacy is an online pharmacy and online doctor service is owned and operated by ABSM Healthcare Ltd (Company Reg. 08515600) and Red Label Medical Ltd (Company Reg. 08676338). All information that appears on this website is intended for information purposes only and should be used to supplement, not replace, your relationship with your local healthcare professionals. You should consult your doctor if you think you may have a health problem or before you start taking a new medicine. Please ensure you always read the information leaflets supplied with any medicinal products.For more information see our policies and terms and conditions at the bottom of every page. © 2014 ABSM Healthcare Ltd. All rights reserved.
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