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Health Tips / Colds

Diagnosis and Symptoms

The common cold is caused by a virus that spreads from person to person. There are over 100 different cold viruses. Once you have the cold, the virus will incubate over 48 hours, before a sudden onset of symptoms. These include coughing, runny or blocked nose, headache, a burning type sensation in the nose or throat, general aches and pains and sneezing. Some people will also suffer from a slightly higher temperature, tiredness or aching muscles and generally feel unwell. Colds usually last between one and two weeks duration. Colds are often confused with flus, which are usually far more debilitating, strike more quickly, with a high temperature, chills and a drop in energy. Those with asthma, in particular, can be badly affected by the symptoms of a cold.

Winter is the most common time of the year to get a cold. During this time, viruses are spread more easily as we tend to spend more time inside often in more crowded environments. Children are much more prone to colds as their immune systems are not fully developed and can often contract a cold from another child in the creche and pass in on to other members of their family.

Preventative measures 

While it is impossible to avoid coming in contact with the viruses which cause cold, good general health and a balanced diet will ensure that our immune system can fight off the infection. If you feel that your diet is lacking in vitamins, a multi-vitamin supplement such as VIVIOPTAL or PHARMATON may be useful.

Vitamin C, as a daily dose of 1000mg (REDOXON or RUBEX), has been shown in many studies to reduce the duration of a cold, while some studies claim to demonstrate that taking such doses of vitamin C will reduce the risk of catching a cold. While some publications have disputed this theory there would appear to be some evidence which shows a beneficial effect in elite athletes.

Zinc lozenges, such as STREPSILS ZINC DEFENCE are very popular. Zinc has also been demonstrated to enhance the immune system, according to one study by increasing the production of T-cells.

As the cold virus can be spread (by coughs and sneezing) to anybody in the vicinity, staying away from those who have coughs or colds, may not prevent, but will reduce your chances of getting a cold. If you are coughing and sneezing, the spread of the bacteria or viruses can be reduced by making sure to cover your mouth when you cough, disposing of all tissues and washing your hands very regularly. For those, where the cough is associated with hayfever, suitable anti-histamine medications should be taken. Those affected with coughs or colds should probably stay at home, until the infection has cleared rather than transmitting the illness to their colleagues and friends.

Non-prescription Treatments 

As a cold is caused by a virus, only the symptoms are treated. Rest is usually the best treatment for a cold, allowing the immune system fight the infection. To prevent dehydration make sure to drink enough fluids. A warm drink can often be more pleasant. While those affected by a cold should wrap up well, the room should be well ventilated.

Paracetamol is often recommended to alleviate the symptoms of a cold. Paracetamol is available in solid or soluble form on its own as PANADOL, PARALIEF and ANADIN-PARACETAMOL  or in combination with caffeine, as PANADOL EXTRA.  It is also available in combination with diphenhydramine, an antihistamine that induces drowsiness, as PANADOL NIGHT 

Flavoured hot drinks containing Paracetamol are very popular. They are marketed as BEECHAMS HOT LEMON and LEMSIP ranges, some of which also contain decongestants and/or vitamin C. (Check with your pharmacist for suitability). Remember to use warm rather than boiling water in their preparation. You should also be aware that some of these products contain more than 500mg of Paracetamol per sachet, so take care not to exceed the maximum daily dose. 

Aspirin (eg. BAYER ASPIRIN, DISPRIN, ASPRO) can also be taken to reduce cold symptoms.  Aspirin is also available combined with caffeine and quinine as ANADIN.  Those allergic to aspirin, with a history of, or current stomach ulcer or other gastrointestinal disease, those taking anticoagulant medication or pregnant or who have asthma should not take aspirin. Aspirin should not be given to children under the age of 16. 

Ibuprofen (eg. NUROFEN, BUPLEX) may be used to treat the symptoms of a cold. Again, those allergic to aspirin, with a history of, or current stomach ulcer or other gastrointestinal disease, or those taking anticoagulant medication should not take ibuprofen. Those who are pregnant, elderly or have asthma should seek the advice of their medical practitioner. 

Soluble preparations of paracetamol or aspirin can be of use for gargling when there is a sore throat associated with the cold.

There are many combination cold remedies available. These contain an anti-pyretic agent (to reduce temperature) such as Paracetamol, with various combinations of anti-histamine,  cough suppressant,  decongestant or vitamin C. These include BENYLIN 4 FLU, BENYLIN DAY AND NIGHT, NIGHT NURSE, DAY NURSE, UNIFLU and UNIFLU PLUS Many of these can cause drowsiness to various degrees and where this could be a problem, DAY NURSE and BENYLIN DAY AND NIGHT (only the night time tablet causes drowsiness) are often recommended. Remember not to take more than 1,000mg Paracetamol at a time and no more than 4,000 mg of paracetamol in 24 hours. Ibuprofen is also used for its anti-pyretic properties and is combined with the decongestant pseudoephedrine in NUROFEN COLD AND FLU. 

Many of these combination cold and flu remedies should not be taken by those who suffer from asthma or glaucoma, or on high blood pressure or anti-depressant medications without consultation with their doctor or pharmacist. As many of these products contain decongestants that have a stimulant effect.

Further information on medicines including recommended dosages is available at

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Last update: 16/05/2013 12:38 • Previous update: 30/11/-0001 00:00