Many of us overestimate the power of antibiotics, and unfortunately the overuse of these medicines over time has lead to more harm than good. Studies have shown that antibiotics have little to no effect on coughs or colds, and can cause side-effects.
Confusion about the benefit of antibiotics can lead to inappropriate use, which in turn contributes to the global problem of antibiotic resistance.
Being sick can make us all feel incredibly miserable, and can leave parents and carers of children feeling very worried and concerned. Coughs, colds, sore throats and earaches can leave anyone feeling terrible. But there are things you can do to help.
Colds are very common and are caused by viruses that are easily passed from person to person. Symptoms may include: sneezing, blocked or runny nose, sore throat, cough, low grade fever (38° C to 38.5° C), headache, and tiredness. A healthy child can sometimes have 8 or more colds in a year.
Some people and doctors have long believed that the colour of snot or phlegm indicated the type or seriousness of an infection. Research suggests that this is not the case, and even a cold with green snot or phlegm does not need to be treated with antibiotics.
It can be normal for cold symptoms to last on average 5-15 days.
What can we do to feel better?
It’s important for everyone to understand that colds and most coughs, earaches, sore throats and other common symptoms caused by respiratory tract infections will improve without antibiotics. We can then ensure the power of these medications remains for when they are genuinely required and appropriate.
There is no cure for the cold, but there are plenty of things you can do to help relieve your symptoms.
- Rest and keep well hydrated – It’s one of the first pieces of advice you get when you’re sick, but we can never stress it enough: give your body time to fight off the virus, and don’t waste that energy elsewhere. Very little hard research has been done on the link between fluid intake and alleviating cold symptoms, but it’s long been one of the first pieces of advice given to cold sufferers. Drinking lots of fluids during a cold can help to break up your congestion, keep you hydrated and keep your throat moist.
- Gargle with warm salty water – This can help prevent upper respiratory infections. It may also decrease the severity of cold symptoms. For example, it may ease sore throat pain and nasal congestion. Gargling with salt water reduces and loosens mucus, which contains bacteria and allergens. To try this remedy at home, dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in a full glass of water. Swish it around your mouth and throat, then spit it out.
- Take some probiotics – Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria and yeast that are found in your body, some foods, and supplements. They can help keep your gut and immune system healthy, and research suggests that probiotics may reduce your chance of getting sick with an upper respiratory infection. There is a specialised form of probiotic called BLIS K12, which is like a roving immune squad, firing away at the “bad” bacteria that cause many types of ear-nose-throat infections as well as oral health ailments such as bad breath, gum disease and plaque formation.
- Zinc, echinacea and vitamin C – These are three natural substances often marketed as alternative medicine methods to treat the common cold. Echinacea is an herb, zinc a trace mineral and vitamin C is a type of water soluble vitamin. While you need zinc and vitamin C from your diet each day for several functions, echinacea is not an essential part of your diet. These substances have been shown to help reduce the severity of symptoms and reduce the impact of a cold on your daily life. They can help relieve A cough, sore throat, runny nose and sneezing.
- Vapour rub – You might not like the smell, but some old-fashioned topical ointments, such as vapor rub, appear to reduce cold symptoms in children older than 2 years. Just one or two applications before bed can help open air passages to combat congestion, reduce coughing, and improve sleep.
- Humidity – Influenza thrives and spreads more easily in dry environments. Creating more humidity in your home may reduce your exposure to this flu-causing virus. Increased humidity may also reduce nasal inflammation, making it easier to breathe when you’re sick.
If you want to increase the odds of avoiding a cold altogether this year you should proactively boost your immune system – to function well it requires balance and harmony. The best thing you can do is to lead a healthy lifestyle by not smoking, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling your blood pressure, limiting alcohol and ensuring adequate rest.