How Much Do You Really Know About The Common Cold?

Shot of a group of businesswomen standing in a row and looking at the camera with one blowing her nose

The common cold is known as common for a reason. Most of the population experience at least one cold throughout the year, which often occurs during the cold winter months. Whilst colds are usually harmless, there are many debates about how to avoid one, how to treat one and how long you’re contagious for. How many of us really know whether you should feed a cold or starve a fever? To help put the rumours to rest, we’ve enlisted the help of LloydsPharmacy Pharmacist, Pareena Patel who dispels the myths and confirms the facts:

LloydsPharmacy Pharmacist, Pareena Patel

LloydsPharmacy Pharmacist, Pareena Patel

Colds are only contagious BEFORE you show symptoms

MYTH: “As a general rule, you are infectious with a cold from a day or two before you show symptoms until all your symptoms disappear.  It usually takes a week or two for your symptoms to disappear and for you to feel better”

 You cannot become IMMUNE to colds as there are many strains

FACT: “There are around 200 different strains of virus that cause the common cold and lead to an infection of the upper airways (also called the respiratory tract).

“A type of virus called Rhinovirus is the most common cause of colds. This virus can infect you at any time in the year, but it’s more likely to be in the winter. On average, an adult gets around two to three colds a year, but children get many more as their immune systems are weaker and it has been reported that they can get up to 10 colds a year.”

 A cold can be cured with ANTIBIOTICS

MYTH: “As the common cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not be effective. Antibiotics are only suitable for bacterial infections. If your cold leads to a bacterial infection, your pharmacist or GP may recommend antibiotics.”

There is NO Cure for the Common Cold

FACT: “Whilst there is no known cure for a cold, there are simple things that you can do to help relieve the uncomfortable symptoms associated with the virus.

“Most importantly you need to rest and recover and stay hydrated. To soothe a sore throat you may also wish to gargle salt water as a natural remedy.

“However, you may also wish to consider over-the-counter remedies to relieve the discomfort of the symptoms and help decongest your airways, such as LloydsPharmacy Cold Relief Capsules (£1.89, 16 capsules).”

Cold Relief Capsules

You can’t PREVENT the common cold

MYTH: “The two most important things you can do to try and prevent recurrent infections is ensuring that you protect your immunity and take action to reduce the germs in the environment you live and work in.

“To try and avoid catching a cold, I would recommend washing your hands frequently with warm water and soap (an alcohol-based sanitizer can also help), regularly disinfecting surfaces at the home and work, disposing of used tissues immediately and avoiding sharing cups, glasses and utensils with other people.

“You should also remember to take of yourself by eating healthily, getting a good night’s sleep and regularly exercising. Research has shown that those who are fit and active have a reduced risk of catching a common cold.”

You could also consider taking a course of Echinacea supplements, such as LloydsPharmacy Echinacea Cold Relief tablets (£3.99) which are thought to boost the immune system.”

Lloyds Echinacea Cold & Flu Relief Tablets

Colds are DANGEROUS for pregnant mothers and babies

MYTH & FACT: “You could be more susceptible to getting a common cold if you are pregnant, due to weaknesses in your immune system.

“Whilst the common cold shouldn’t be harmful, it’s important to be mindful of which over-the-counter remedies are safe to take. You should always speak to your pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter medicines. If you are looking for more advice on which medicines you can take in pregnancy, visit BUMPS (Best Use of Medicines in Pregnancy). If you think you may have flu, rather than just a cold, then you should see your GP.”

 Cold viruses LIVE outside the body for up to 24 hours

FACT: “The cold virus spreads in the droplets of mucus or saliva that are sprayed out when you cough or sneeze and can live on skin or surfaces for up to 24 hours. To avoid spreading a cold you should wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap, cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze, bin used tissues immediately, and avoid sharing towels, pillows and other household items such as toothbrushes and cups with another person.” 


Moira Chisholm

I'm the Health Editor on My Weekly and am always interested to hear what's new in this fascinating field. I also deal with the gardening, shopping pages, general features, our website content and the Ask Helen problem page. I have a special interest in Christmas content because I'm on the team for Your Best Ever Christmas Magazine, too!