Winter is hard enough with cold, wet weather and shorter days so having to contend with a runny nose, a thumping head and a hacking cough is the last thing you need.
Colds, flu, coughs and sore throats are some of the most common ailments we can suffer with, and, thanks to the lack of a cure, they are a hard fact of life.
But why do we get them, and is there anything we can do to make ourselves feel better while we wait for them to pass?
How do I know whether it’s a cold or the flu?
No doubt we can all recognise when a cold or flu is about to strike – you may have a blocked or runny nose, a sore throat, or maybe you are feeling a little bit achey.
The problem is it can be difficult to differentiate between the two at first. Symptoms for both include all of the above, as well as headaches, a cough, a raised temperature, loss of taste and smell and sneezing fits.
But although both will make you feel lousy, flu will come on within a few hours and tends to be more severe than a cold. Someone with the flu will probably feel too exhausted to carry on as normal and may need to get some bed rest. A person with the flu should recover after a week but it might take longer for little ones. A children’s ibuprofen oral suspension1 can help them feel more comfortable.
Decongestant tablets2 may also help to relieve nasal, sinus and chest congestion.
Why do we cough?
Suffering with a cough is annoying, especially when it inconveniently rears its head in a meeting or when you are just about to drift off to sleep.
But coughing is part of your body’s natural defences. It’s a reflex action that clears the airways of irritants, such as mucus, dust or smoke. That’s why if you have a respiratory tract infection, such as cold, flu or bronchitis, it might trigger mucus to form, causing you to cough.
But you may also cough if you have an allergy, such as hay fever, which also causes your nasal passages to produce mucus. Asthma can be another reason for a persistent cough, speak to a healthcare professional if you’re worried.
Understanding the different types of cough
Cough medicines can offer relief. But we have all stood, dazed and confused in a cold-ridden state, in front of a huge array of cough medicines wondering whick one we may need. Well, that will depend on the type of cough you have.
A chesty, or ‘wet’ cough means phlegm is being produced to help clear the airways. Medicines suitable for treating chesty coughs are ones that contain an expectorant, which can help bring up mucus and other material from the lungs, bronchi, and trachea.
Sometimes, the cough is tickly, comes with a sore throat and keeps us up at night. If this sounds like yours, a linctus medicine can form a soothing layer over the inflamed areas of the throat.
Dry coughs are usually brought on by a cold, flu or irritant, such as fumes or dust. They can be really uncomfortable, despite no mucus or phlegm being produced. A syrup that contains pholcodine3 can help to reduce the need to cough.
Try to drink plenty of water, rest in a comfortable environment and you could take ibuprofen1 or paracetamol to help with any pain or fever.
Book an appointment with your doctor if it lasts longer than three weeks.
Soothing a sore throat
Sore throats are a pain in the neck that can make it uncomfortable to swallow, but they are rarely serious and often accompany a cold or the flu. Symptoms include swollen tonsils and enlarged and sore glands in the neck.
A glycerin solution4 can help to ease the sting and it’s suitable for the whole family including children over the age of one year. But, pregnant, breastfeeding women and diabetics should avoid using this type of product.
All in all, getting a cold or the flu isn’t nice but with the average person suffering two a year, and more in children, they are something we have to learn to live with.
Luckily, with a little TLC and a few over-the-counter medicines, you and your loved ones could soon be back on your feet.
This blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding your own or your family’s health.