Cold and flu symptoms can make you ill enough to keep you from your regular activities for several days. Find out how to relieve them.
How can colds and flu be treated?
Colds and flu are respiratory infections both caused by viruses. Antibiotics are ineffective since they only work against bacteria. The best way to protect against these infections is to focus on prevention (wash hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, avoid close contact with infected individuals, practise physical distancing, etc.).
Your immune system is responsible for fighting colds and flu, among other things. It is helpful to rest and drink plenty of fluids. You can relieve your symptoms using over-the-counter medications until you get better.
Regarding the flu, it is beneficial for certain individuals considered at risk to receive antiviral treatment. This type of treatment should be initiated as soon as possible, ideally within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. This will reduce the duration of symptoms and the risk of complications.
Pharmacists can now prescribe antiviral treatment to people with signs or symptoms indicative of influenza who are at risk of complications. Examples include people living in long-term care facilities, those who are pregnant (2nd or 3rd trimester) or have certain chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes, heart, lung or neurological disease, immune deficiency, etc.). If you think you have the flu, call your pharmacist who will tell you what to do and give you the usual advice.
How can cold and flu symptoms be relieved?
Most cold and flu symptoms can be relieved by taking over-the-counter medications. Always ask your pharmacist for advice before purchasing any of these products, as some may not be suitable for you due to your age, health, medical history and other medications you are taking.
Nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing
You can use an oral decongestant (in pill form) or nasal spray to relieve nasal congestion. Tablets are effective, but can cause side effects (e.g. trembling, palpitations, excitation). Therefore, they should not be taken before bedtime. Insomnia caused by decongestants can be reduced when combined with an antihistamine to relieve runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes.
Nasal sprays have the advantage of having few side effects, but their use should be limited to a maximum of five consecutive days, as they can be habit-forming. Saline sprays, rinses or drops are a good option for the natural relief of nasal symptoms. These products are suitable for people of all ages, including babies and young children.
The active ingredient used to relieve a dry cough is dextromethorphan (DM), which is found in various oral medications in syrup or pill form. If you have lung problems or are taking other medications, it is preferable to consult your pharmacist before taking a product containing DM.
There are other cough syrups available from your pharmacist upon request. Over-the-counter syrups with codeine are generally no more effective than those without it. Moreover, they cause drowsiness.
For wet coughs, those with secretions, guaifenesin-based syrups can help you expectorate (spit). This medication is sometimes used on its own or sometimes combined with DM or other substances (like menthol).
Muscle pain, fever, headaches and sore throat
Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are useful to relieve all of these symptoms. Given its effective and safe profile, acetaminophen is often considered the primary choice. Ibuprofen has an increased risk of side effects (digestive and others), and is not suitable for everyone. Speak to your healthcare professional before purchasing it over the counter.
For a sore throat, you can also take lozenges. Some of them have an anesthetic effect that "numbs" the throat. Make sure to follow the maximum recommended amount. Ask your pharmacist to help you choose from the wide range of lozenges available on the market.
Various products combine several medications in a single formulation. Special attention should be paid when purchasing or using this type of product, as each of its ingredients must be considered. In general, it is better to refrain from taking a drug that you do not need!
Always speak to your pharmacist if you have questions about colds, flu and the ways to relieve symptoms.