Colds and The Flu

There are about 200 different flu and cold viruses and the average adult in the UK catches between two and four colds each year. However, despite many years of research, there is still no cure available.

What is a cold?

You can catch a cold by inhaling the virus that is contained in airborne droplets. These droplets are dispersed into the air when someone who has a cold sneezes or coughs. However, the most common way for you to catch a cold is through transmission by touch from one person to another. About two days after catching the infection, you might start to feel the symptoms and this is when you are most infectious. A cold usually lasts anywhere from 5 to 10 days.

What are the main symptoms of a cold?

The main symptoms of a cold often vary from person to person. You might have a blocked/congested nose, a headache, a sore throat, you may feel tired, have thick nasal mucus, or have aches and pains.

How is it best to treat a cold?

Although currently there is no cure for the common cold, plenty of remedies are available to help with easing the symptoms. Ask your IPSA Pharmacy team about the products that are available to help you with both cold prevention and the easing of your symptoms.

How do I know if I have a cold or the flu?

Flu (the common name for influenza) is a more serious kind of infection than a cold. Influenza affects your lungs as well. The flu virus is transmitted via air droplets that are coughed, breathed or sneezed by people who have the flu virus. Flu often occurs as an epidemic, affecting many people at the same time.
The symptoms of the common cold (200 viruses) can include:

  • Symptoms coming on gradually
  • A slight temperature
  • A sore throat and a runny nose
  • You are able to get out of bed
  • Symptoms should last for approximately a week

The symptoms of flu symptoms (only 3 viruses) can include:

  • A quick onset of your symptoms
  • A high temperature
  • Weak muscles with sweating and aching limbs
  • You will not feel well enough to get out of bed
  • Symptoms lasts anywhere from 7 to 10 days with the first 3 or 4 days being the worst

What if I find it hard to sleep?

It can be difficult getting a good night’s sleep when you have a cold, a troubling cough and you are bunged up. Some things can help with sleep such as sprinkling eucalyptus or menthol essential oil drops onto a tissue and putting it near to your pillow, as this can clear your blocked nose. Speak to your IPSA pharmacist about the range of products for aiding a restful sleep when you are suffering from a cold.

What causes sore throats?

Usually, sore throats are caused by either a bacterial or a viral infection. Sore throats are fairly common, as most people tend to get at least two to three sore throat episodes yearly, with children and teenagers being more susceptible to them than adults are. This is due to younger people not having built up their immunity yet against many of the bacteria and viruses that can cause sore throats.
Most sore throat episodes are not serious, require no specialised medical treatment and usually pass within 3 to 7 days. You can usually relieve the symptoms of a sore throat with over-the-counter painkillers, for example, paracetamol, and these can be purchased from your IPSA Pharmacy. Additionally, maintaining a good oral-health regime can be beneficial to aid prevention.
What are the common symptoms of a sore throat?
The signs of a sore throat include:

  • Enlarged and tender glands in your neck
  • Swollen tonsils
  • A painful and tender feeling at the back of your throat
  • Discomfort on swallowing

The other associated symptoms of a sore throat include:

  • Aching muscles
  • A high temperature
  • Headache
  • Cough/runny nose
  • Tiredness

How should I treat a sore throat?

Try to keep your throat well lubricated by drinking plenty of fluids and swallowing. You can also suck on lozenges or on hard-boiled sweets.
Avoid smoky atmospheres and smoking, gargle with salt water and purchase over-the-counter painkillers (e.g. aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen) from your IPSA Pharmacy

If you do have a sore throat, book an appointment to see your IPSA physician:

    If your symptoms have not improved after 2 weeks

  • If you have frequent sore throat episodes that do are not responding to painkillers like aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen


    A runny nose or a blocked nose is often one of the most annoying symptoms when you have a cold. The nasal congestion you experience is due to the swelling of the blood vessels in the lining of your nose.

How can I unblock my blocked nose?

  • Use a non-drowsy decongestant that can help to relieve both nasal and sinus congestion
  • Use a nasal sprays for rapid relief
  • A steam inhalation will warm and moisturise your nasal airways, reducing the inflammation and allowing the softened mucus to be released
  • You can relieve your blocked nose with vapours from natural essential oils, such as pine, cinnamon and menthol

What causes a cough?

Coughing, which is a reflex action, is your body’s way to clear your airways of mucus and of irritants (e.g. dust or smoke). Coughs are symptomatic of a range of conditions, such as asthma and bronchitis, as well as colds. The type of viral infection that causes your cold might also spread into your lower respiratory tract, which irritates it and makes you cough.

What is the treatment for a chesty cough?

A chesty cough means that you produce phlegm. Chesty coughs are the body’s way of expelling any unwanted material from your lungs. A chesty cough treatment assists this process and it works by loosening your phlegm, thus encouraging ‘expectoration’ rather than suppressing your cough.

What is the treatment for a dry and tickly cough?

A dry and tickly cough is usually light and repetitive, does not produce phlegm and can worsen in dry or centrally heated environments. There are many products on the market that help to alleviate the symptoms of a dry and tickly cough. Speak to your IPSA pharmacist.

How can I prevent getting coughs and colds?

You can prevent getting a cough or cold and avoid spreading germs:

  • By washing your hands regularly
  • By sneezing and coughing into tissues and then throwing them away immediately
  • By resting and staying at home if you are ill
  • By avoiding close contact with anyone who has a cough or cold or the flu
  • By eating a healthy balanced diet and exercising regularly (e.g. taking a brisk 30-minute walk 5 days a week)

Vitamins and minerals that help to prevent coughs and colds

Especially during the winter season, it is important to ensure that you are taking the correct vitamins and minerals so that you can remain fit and healthy during the busy period.
Vitamin C: This is in a variety of vegetables and fruits. Vitamin C is essential during the winter months because it is needed for the repair and growth of tissues, alongside being a well-known antioxidant.

Zinc: This vital mineral maintains your body’s defences. Zinc helps to support a healthy immune system, and you immune system is essential for fighting off and preventing the common cold. Ensure you get enough zinc by eating plenty of nuts, beans, seeds and lentils.

Selenium: This important mineral is important during cold weather. Selenium is an antioxidant and is found in sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts and wheat germ.

Vitamin D: This vitamin helps you to maintain healthy bones and also helps your body to absorb calcium. Vitamin D production is stimulated by sunlight exposure, so during winter, eat lots of meat, oily fish and margarine.

Calcium: This helps you to maintain healthy teeth and bones and is present in canned fish, dairy products and leafy, green vegetables.

Use herbal remedies to boost your body’s natural defences

For many centuries, herbal remedies have been used to help to strengthen the immune system, especially during winter months.
Echinacea can help to increase your body’s resistance to infection, thus making you better able to deal with illnesses such as colds.
Garlic is believed to strengthen your immune system, with odourless garlic supplements providing a concentrated boost.
Devil’s claw, which is a South African shrub, is believed to help in maintaining flexible and supple joints (especially the back).
Ginkgo biloba is thought to aid healthy circulation.
Ginger is a herb that can be taken in vitamin form or added as a raw ingredient to your evening meals. Ginger has a wonderful taste and it also has health benefits (e.g. aiding digestion and maintaining good circulation).