Updated: Mar 6
Common Cold symptoms and general advice from Your Pocket Nurse
It is staggering how many people do not know the treatment options available to them in regards to symptom relief from the common cold. I have worked in a many different clinic type settings, and the amount of people who seek professional medical advice, even just for a runny nose, still surprises me. Would you make a GP appointment for a mild sore throat and a blocked nose? Well, some people might, but you’d be unlikely to get an appointment for 2 weeks anyway, at which point the symptoms should have resolved.
Many people are seeking medical advice with cold-like symptoms, due to being concerned about Covid-19. We are so fortunate in this country to have had a rapid roll out of the vaccine, but unfortunately this does mean that the vast majority of people who are Covid-19 positive and vaccinated now only have mild cold-like symptoms, if any symptoms at all. It is always worth trying to get a PCR test done, or at least do a home antigen test before risking spreading Covid-19, and particularly before contact with vulnerable people. I won’t bang on about Covid-19 here but will likely do a separate post later on. In the meantime, if you get any of the symptoms I mention in this article, do bear in mind it might be Covid-19.
Getting a cold whilst on holiday is unfortunate, but quite common, particularly when having to take public transport to get there. Cold virus’ spread easily and can live on surfaces for many hours. Just pressing a button in a lift, touching a button to flush a public toilet, or having someone sneeze in the vicinity can be enough to pass on the virus. Studies have shown that sneezing can produce droplets to a distance of up to 20 feet and coughing up to 6 feet with droplets remaining in the air for 10 minutes. I personally find it fascinating that one member of a family may not catch a virus which every other member is suffering with, and the reasons for this seem to vary. It is thought that genetics have a factor in how susceptible a person may be to viruses and another factor can be the efficiency of the cells in the airways to clear those invading virus cells and also whether that person had previously been exposed that same strain of virus, and therefore already has immunity. There is limited concrete evidence on how you can boost your ability to fight the common cold, but there is clear evidence that you can reduce this ability by poor life choices such as smoking.
Really, other than thorough regular hand washing or locking yourself away in isolation, there is very little you can do to prevent catching the common cold and apart from making you feel a bit rubbish for a few days, it is unlikely to cause any serious harm. If you are suffering from any of the following symptoms, you likely have a cold;
1. Sore throat
2. Runny nose
3. Blocked nose
6. Mild body aches
8. Sinus congestion
9. Sore eyes
10. Mild fever
Remember that the common cold is a virus, so antibiotics are not going to help, your only option is to treat the symptoms and wait it out. So what can you take to help?
1. Paracetamol and/or Ibuprofen. This can help to bring down a mild fever and ease bodyaches/headaches. A fever is a normal response to a virus and is just your bodies way of fighting it. If you have a temperature between 37.8-39 there is no harm in leaving it untreated to let your body do its work, only treat if you feel unwell with it – just remember to drink plenty as your body will be demanding more fluids than normal.
2. There are a few options to help with a blocked nose, including olbas oil, saline nasal sprays, Vicks vapour rub or Vicks inhalers. Some people even take antihistamines to help, but I am not convinced they do. Decongestants can help with any sinus discomfort and blocked nose and are available in tablet form and nasal sprays and help to reduce tissue swelling in the sinuses – do not take for longer than 5 days at a time.
3. If you have a runny nose, try a tissue, don’t use your sleeve!
4. A cough is a bodily reflex, like a sneeze. I do not think that any shop bought cough syrup helps in the slightest. Inhaling in a steamed up bathroom, or putting your head over a hot bowl of water with a T-towel to lock in the steam can help to loosen any secretions in the nose/airways, make breathing easier, and to relax the coughing reflex. Codeine Linctus can help, but can only be purchased in a Pharmacy after consultation with a trained Pharmacist.
5. Sore throats can be soothed by two Asprin gargled in warm water (spit out afterwards). Alternatively, try a throat lozenge that contains a local anaesthetic, I personally think these are amazing.
6. Soothing eye drops can be purchased if you feel you have dry irritable eyes. But any mucus or swelling of the eyes may be a viral conjunctivitis which is common with cold symptoms and can be treated by gently cleaning the eyes with cool boiled water mixed with small amounts of salt. Wipe once per swab/cotton wool only and if no improvement in a couple of days, or if any pain or visual changes, seek medical advice.
7. Do not be tempted to lie in bed all day feeling sorry for yourself. Try and get some gentle exercise and fresh air – you will feel better for it.
There are some really great products out there to help children also;
1. Olbas oil can be great for making a congested child breath easier and is very soothing. A few drops in some hot water under the bed will gently fill the air with a soothing menthol.
2. Particularly when abroad, air-conditioning can appear to make sore throats and coughs worse. Try a defuser to add a bit of moisture to the room, and you can even add a couple drops of Olbas oil to it. Do not leave unattended overnight, clean and change the water regularly.
3. Calpol plug-ins are safe from 3 months and although I have never personally tried them, I have heard from other mums that they are great.
4. Raise one end of the mattress slightly by placing a pillow or two under the mattress at the head end, this will help with any coughs that always get worse when lying flat.
5. Paracetamol and ibuprofen (age dependant) can help settle your child, decrease fever and improve any lost appetite whilst easing their symptoms. – please follow bottle instructions carefully.
6. Make sure they drink plenty. Ice lollies can help you to get in extra fluids and sooth a sore throat at the same time.
7. Obtain medical help for children with a rash, any shortness of breath, decreased wet nappies, a temperature above 38C if they are less than three months old, and above 39C if between 3-6 months.
Caution must be used when using many shop purchased cold/flu remedies. Lempsip powders and decongestant medications often contain paracetamol and care must be taken to not overdose accidently. Seek medical advice if concerned, particularly with elderly people, young children or people with pre-existing medical conditions. Look out for coughs that produce green sputum, wheezing or any shortness of breath. Drink plenty and seek help if you experience any urinary symptoms, such a pain, increased frequency, foul smell, or your urine output drops. Seek medical advice for any chest pain, dizziness, severe fatigue, or a cough that doesn’t resolve within three weeks.
As I mentioned, you can not cure a cold or shorten its duration, so its natural to feel pretty helpless and frustrated. However, there are a lot of options for self-treatment of cold symptoms and I believe it helps to feel like there is something you can do to relieve your symptoms. I think many of the available cold medications, particularly cough syrups, work more due to the placebo effect than by any medical means. But do not underestimate the power of the mind, I myself admit to feeling better instantly the moment I take paracetamol for headache, or cinnarizine for motion sickness when I realistically know they take time to work and I can’t possibly have successfully treated my symptoms the moment a tablet hits my tongue – but I’ll roll with it.
Before Coronavirus I used to cough to cover a fart
Now I fart to cover a cough!
If you have found this article helpful, I would love to hear about it, drop a comment below. Please feel free to share the wisdom!