How To Avoid Those Coughs And Colds

Shot of a young pharmacist assisting a customer

The winter months are fast approaching, and as well as bringing dark nights and cold weather, they also bring illness.  Not only are cough, cold and flu rates higher at this time of year, but the cold weather can also worsen existing health conditions, such as asthma or arthritis.

John Smith, Chief Executive of the PAGB (Proprietary Association of Great Britain) comments, “Winter ailments might not seem like an important issue for many people, but they can be seriously dangerous for the elderly and those with long-term health conditions.

“As a result, every winter the NHS is put under increased pressure to deliver services such as A&E and GP appointments.  Elderly and vulnerable people tend to have increased need for care during this time and there is more than an 80% chance of someone over the age of 75 needing admission to A&E during the winter.

“Therefore, it’s important that these services are available for those who really need it and self-treatable conditions, such as coughs and colds, should be managed by seeking advice from a pharmacist who will be able to recommend the appropriate over-the-counter medicines to treat symptoms effectively.  Pharmacists are highly trained experts and should be the first port of call during the winter season.

“The NHS Stay Well This Winter campaign also offers great winter health advice on a range of common winter illnesses and how to treat them.”


Pharmacist Steve Riley offers advice on how to deal with winter health problems:

“There are approximately 11,500 community pharmacies in England, and 89% of people live within twenty-minutes walking distance of one of them.  These pharmacies provide easy and quick access to highly trained healthcare professionals without the need for an appointment, so it’s important that we utilise them when necessary.”


Firstly, many people say that they have “the flu” when they are actually just suffering from a cold.  If you had the flu, you’d know about it, trust me!  Symptoms of flu, such as a high temperature and aching muscles, are generally a lot more severe and can last for a lot longer.

For people aged 65 and over and for those with long-term health conditions, including diabetes and kidney disease, flu can be particularly dangerous and can even result in death.  If you fall into one of those categories, then I would recommend visiting your community pharmacist for the flu jab, which is free on the NHS to those most at risk.  However, if you do catch the flu and are otherwise fit and healthy, then the best thing to do is rest at home and treat your symptoms with over-the-counter remedies, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and relieve aches and pains, or a combination product to treat all of your symptoms.

Coughs And Sore Throat

 One of the most common reasons people (36%) visit the GP when suffering with a self-treatable winter condition is because they want or think they need antibiotics

These are always caused by viral infections and should clear up within a week or two.  A pharmacist will be able to recommend a suitable cough medicine, throat spray or throat lozenges to help ease the symptoms and irritation, allowing you to get on with your day.  They will usually ask you a series of questions to help establish the best treatment based on your individual symptoms and lifestyle needs.


 71% of people think symptoms of a common cold should only be present for 3-6 days, when symptoms can actually persist for one to two weeks

I’m sure very few people will be able to go the whole winter without having a blocked or runny nose at least once – it’s not called the common cold for nothing! Decongestants and sinus relief products will work to clear a blocked nose and will help you to get some rest.  Again, paracetamol and ibuprofen can also work to reduce your body temperature if you’re suffering from a fever, and combination products can help if you are suffering from a number of symptoms.  It’s also important to stay hydrated, so be sure to drink plenty of fluids – the cold should clear up within a few weeks.


Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK.  Although sickness and diarrhoea are somewhat unpleasant, the symptoms should be treated at home to avoid the risk of infecting others – particularly vulnerable people. Intake of fluids is key to avoid dehydration, which can be dangerous for young children and the elderly.  Adults and children can also take an oral rehydration sachet (available over-the-counter), to help replace essential lost minerals and salts.  Adults can also take an antidiarrhoeal medication to stop the symptoms of diarrhoea.  Apart from that, get plenty of rest and practise good hygiene to prevent others catching the virus!

Cold Sores

Cold sores are small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth and are caused by the herpes virus.  They are generally a sign that someone is run down or under stress and can take around seven to 10 days to clear up. Cold sore creams available over-the-counter should be purchased at the first sign of a tingling sensation, which indicates one is about to develop.

Dry Skin

Skin can lose more moisture during the winter months, causing people to suffer with dry skin. If you feel that you are particularly suffering and if your skin is becoming painful, then speak to your pharmacist about using a mildly medicated or intensive moisturiser or emollient.  The best time to apply moisturiser is after a bath or shower while skin is still moist and this should help relieve the uncomfortable feeling of dry or cracked skin.

 Over a third of people (37%) admitted that they never use their pharmacist as a source of health information

What else can your pharmacist do for you?





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