A self-treatment guide for colds and ‘flu www.chic.org.uk In the Dark Ages, Know your enemy – Medically, there is no such illness as ‘flu, but it is now accepted as when the UK was in what are colds and ‘flu? the common term for the illness the grip of the Black Let’s start by sorting out the Influenza. ‘Flu is caused by difference between colds and ‘flu, different viruses from those that Death, the mere because there is a difference, cause colds. Although it is caught suggestion of a sneeze although both are virus was enough to send infections. Antibiotics FACT: The cold season lasts from September to have no effect on viruses, March. 80% of all annual colds are contracted during people running to get so there is no point in this time period. out of your way. trying to get some from your doctor to cure a cold. In fact in the same way and has similar That’s because a there is no cure, you just have to symptoms, ‘flu is quite a nasty sneeze was one of the wait while your body’s natural illness and it can lead to serious earliest symptoms of defences fight off the virus. This complications in vulnerable people, will take several days, but you can such as the elderly and people the Bubonic Plague. effectively treat the symptoms and with certain long-term medical These days, upper make yourself more comfortable conditions. Luckily, just just three with over-the-counter medicines. types of virus cause ‘flu and a respiratory tract vaccine is available. You should be infections - that is Colds are caused colds and flu - are the by more than 100 What makes us sneeze? different viruses, Sneezing may seem like a straightforward most common of all so many that it is procedure, but, in fact, the tickling in your nose infections; on average impossible to make that starts a sneeze off is just the beginning every adult can expect a vaccine that of a complicated chain of events. Tickling in would stop us to get two a year, and nose message to “sneeze centre” in brain from getting them. message to all muscles involved ie. children even more. Colds are caught by breathing in abdominal (belly) muscles, chest muscles, But there is usually diaphragm, the muscles that control your vocal microscopic no need to go to your droplets of fluid cords, muscles in the back of your throat and doctor, or to suffer in containing the your eyelid muscles SNEEZE! virus sneezed or silence, as a cold is not coughed out by a person who has vaccinated every year if serious and you can a cold. You can also pick up on you are over 65, or if you your fingers infected droplets that have bronchitis, asthma, ease the misery and fall onto surfaces, and then put emphysema, heart disease, get through it with the them into your body by touching kidney disease or diabetes, help of over-the-counter your nose or eyes. Colds are most or if your immune system common in the winter months, but is weakened by disease medicines. This leaflet can occur at any time of year. or treatment. will tell you how. SNEEZING FACT: The record for the longest sneezing bout ever goes to a Donna Griffiths, from Worcestershire. Donna started sneezing on 13 January 1981 and didn’t stop for 987 days; her next sneeze-free day was 16 September 1983. In the case of ‘flu, symptoms come on quickly with shivering, headache, muscle aches in the Day 1-2 Day 2-3 back and legs and dizziness. Symptoms Symptoms A high temperature always This is the incubation stage and there Things start with a tickle or soreness in develops, but should go down are no symptoms to tell you that you the nose and/or throat and sometimes within 48 hours. Symptoms have been infected. in the eyes. similar to a cold then develop and may be accompanied by loss of The soreness in the throat gets worse What’s happening to your body appetite, nausea and even and a dry cough might start, as if your Colds are caused by more than 100 throat was trying to clear something vomiting. The worst is usually different viruses, so many that it is stuck in it. over in 4-5 days but complete impossible to make a vaccine to stop recovery can take up to 10 days. us from getting them. They are caught You start sneezing and your nose starts by breathing in microscopic droplets of to run. The course of a cold is easier to fluid containing the virus sneezed or plot - here is a timeline guide to coughed out by a person who has a What’s happening to your body the course of a cold, showing you cold. As a good sneeze can carry more Cells in the nose and throat release what you can do to help yourself than the length of a bus or underground chemicals to call up the main defence at each stage, and medicines railway carriage you can’t really get out troops – the white blood cells. These you can take to get through it of the way of them. You can also get chemicals irritate the cells and cause with the minimum of discomfort. infected droplets on your fingers by itchiness and soreness, and tickling in Not everybody gets all the contact with a person who has a cold, the nose making you sneeze. symptoms, or with the same of from objects and surfaces that they By now, a large number of cells have severity or for the same length have fallen on to. You then put them been invaded and killed off by the of time; it depends on the virus into your body by touching your nose virus, and the cells in the lining of the causing the infection and or eyes. Some get past the body’s first nose produce a watery mucus to wash the individual. line of defence – the hairs and mucus them out. in the nose, which traps them – and invade the cells of the airways. Their Mounting the counter-attack against the only aim in life is to take over your virus takes a lot out of you, and you will cells and to use them to reproduce by feel tired and unwell. the million. Your body must now mobilise its defences to fight them off. What you can do It’s probably best to stay at home to What you can do avoid spreading your cold to others. If you can, stay away from people with Take it easy and rest if possible. colds to avoid getting infected. Keep warm, and keep the atmosphere Do not touch your nose or eyes after moist. being in contact with somebody who has a cold or influenza. Drink plenty of fluids, as you will lose a lot through mucus production and If there are colds around, wash your possibly perspiration. hands often to keep the viruses off them. Avoid smoking if possible, as it will further irritate the throat and the lining of the nose. Over-the-counter What’s happening to your body There are some ”all-in-one” medicines, medicines you can take The tissues in the nose swell up as your which contain a combination of Suck lozenges or pastilles to ease a body continues to fight the infection. ingredients to treat several symptoms. sore throat. Some are simply pleasantly The mucus gets clogged with white They are convenient and often cheaper flavoured with lemon or blackcurrant, blood cells, dead viruses and cells the than buying individual products. and contain glycerin to lubricate a viruses have killed. Air spaces (sinuses) sore throat, while others are medicated. around the nose fill up with mucus, For very sore throats, when it hurts to swallow, there are lozenges and throat and they push on nerves causing pain (sinusitis). Day 5-14+ sprays containing local anaesthetics, and a lozenges containing Mucus is also produced in the pharynx, Symptoms anti-inflammatory ingredients. causing tissues to swell up. Symptoms usually start to subside. For a troublesome dry cough, take a Usually with a cold adults do not get a What you can do linctus containing a cough suppressant high temperature, although children Continue as above. such as dextromethorphan. Linctuses may do. If the infection is a really nasty containing antihistamines are also for Sleep with your head on a high pillow one adults may have a slight fever after dry coughs and because they tend to if your nose is stuffed up at night. a few days. cause drowsiness, are useful to take at Use steam inhalations to liquefy bedtime if a cough is keeping you What’s happening to your body mucus in the nose and chest and help awake at night. Sucking lozenges will get rid of it. The virus has been defeated. It is also help control a dry cough. now just a matter of time until things For that ‘generally awful’ feeling take Over-the-counter get back to normal. But it may be a ibuprofen or paracetamol.* medicines you can take couple of weeks until the catarrh has all Decongestants shrink down swollen gone, the coughing stops and the tissues in the nasal passages and allow swollen tissues in the nose and chest Day 3-5 air to flow freely through them again. They are available as nose drops and shrink down again. sprays and in syrup and tablet forms. What you can do Symptoms Go back to your normal activities. Take pain relievers like ibuprofen and The discharge from the nose may Keep on with medication if you paracetamol for sinusitis pain. change from clear and watery to thicker need to until the symptoms have and yellowish in colour. For a chesty cough use a linctus gone completely. containing an expectorant, such as Your nose starts to feel very stuffy and If you still have a raised temperature guiaphenesin, which loosens and helps blocked up, and you might get pain in take ibuprofen or paracetamol.* bring up the catarrh that is causing the the forehead and around and behind cough. Some expectorant linctuses also the eyes. contain a decongestant which helps you Catarrh produced in the nose drips breathe easier if you are wheezy as well. down the nasal passage into the Decongestants also help to dry up a pharynx (upper windpipe), causing a runny nose, as do antihistamines and phlegmy, chesty cough as the body there are some cold treatments that tries to get rid of the catarrh. contain both. The tissues in the windpipe also Inhalations containing menthol, get congested, so that air passes eucalyptus oil and other essential oils through less easily and you could also help to unblock the nose. These become wheezy. can be used alone or inhaled in steam. Digging in – how to make yourself The fall back position – when you more comfortable might need to see a doctor Colds Nearly all colds and ‘flu will clear up on their own, Treat symptoms with over-the-counter but there are some situations where you might need medicines (see previous page) and warm drinks to see a doctor: There is no need to reduce normal activities, If you have had a cough for more than two weeks, or if it although going in to work may just spread the is getting worse over a shorter period infection and the misery If the catarrh that you bring up is thick and a dark yellow, You might become tired more easily and brownish or greenish colour, or has spots of blood in it need to rest. If you have a noticeably raised temperature with a cold, ‘Flu or if you have ‘flu and your temperature has not gone down after 48 hours Treat symptoms with appropriate over-the-counter medicines If you get shortness of breath, especially if you are elderly Stay in bed, rest and try to get plenty of sleep If you feel severe pain in the chest when you breathe in or cough Drink as much fluid as possible, but not alcohol If you have had a sore throat that is not getting better Avoid smoking if possible. after a week, or a sore throat with persistent hoarseness, a rash, a stiff neck, or difficulty in swallowing Don’t forget that in pharmacies a If you have earache pharmacist is always readily available If you suffer from asthma or bronchitis, as a cold may lead on to a more serious bacterial infection and need to give you advice on symptoms and treatment with an antibiotic treatment. He or she will also make sure that a medicine is safe for you to take, Calling up the reserves – where because there are some cold remedies you can get information and advice that should be avoided by as well as from your pharmacist people with certain medical or doctor conditions, and some that can react with and cause For further information on colds and ‘flu, visit the Consumer Health Information Centre website at problems with some www.chic.org.uk prescribed medicines. For information on particular over-the-counter products to The pharmacist will treat colds and ‘flu visit the Medicine-Chest website at also advise on cold www.medicinechestonline.com treatments available for For information on vitamins, minerals and other babies and children, and health supplements visit the Health Supplements Information Service website at www.hsis.org or call what is suitable for pregnant the helpline on 020 7370 2233. women and elderly people. Always Read the label. *Do not exceed the dose stated on the pack of any medicines you are taking. www.chic.org.uk Myths and Legends Old wives’ tales exist in abundance when it comes to cold and ‘flu. Cold weather causes colds and flu Going out with wet hair will give you a cold Cold weather has never been proved as the cause of a cold. Some theories suggest that the increase This will probably give you the shivers, but not a of the occurrence of the common cold during colder cold. In one experiment volunteers were drenched months is because more people gather indoors with water and placed in cold draughts. They with little circulation where the viruses are more were no more likely to catch a cold than the likely to spread. fortunate volunteers who stayed warm and dry. Feed a cold and starve a fever Taking over-the-counter medicines Appetite is often lost during a fever, so there is a each time you have a cold will make natural tendency not to eat, but you should actually you immune to them try to eat something nutritious to help give you This is not the case. Some medicines such energy to fight the virus. as antibiotics do lose their effectiveness Feeding a cold has no basis either: if they are used inappropriately or too sufferers should merely seek to eat often. Cold and ‘flu remedies work a healthy, well-balanced diet and in a different way; by relieving drink plenty of fluids, in order to symptoms. They will continue to stay well nourished to effectively be effective when treating your fight off the cold. occasional bouts of colds and ‘flu. You only need to take Using a cold or flu remedy over-the-counter medicines for will make the infection last the first day or two of a cold longer and delay the symptoms There is no cure for a cold but you can make Whatever you do, it takes between 4 and 14 days yourself feel much better if you take medicines to for your body to clear out the virus causing the combat the symptoms while your body is fighting problem. By relieving the symptoms with the most off the infection. Symptoms may last from just a appropriate remedy you will feel better and able to day or two to perhaps two weeks and you need to get on with the things you want to do, while letting treat them for as long as you have them, otherwise the cold or flu run its course. they can just carry on being a nuisance. But do not exceed the maximum length of treatment recommended on the pack.