Sore throats, coughs, colds, sinusitis-What you can take to help:

Coughs, colds, sore throats, sinusitis and ear infections are nearly always caused by viral infections. You will make a full recovery on your own and increasingly the evidence shows that it is better for you to get better without antibiotics.

You can make yourself feel better using medicines available from the chemist. Do read the instructions carefully, and avoid aspirin or ibuprofen if you have a history of asthma or stomach ulcers. Paracetamol is a safe alternative.

Take as much medication as you need, but do not exceed the recommended dose. Codeine preparations are useful if you are in a lot of pain/discomfort. Paracetamol can be taken alternately with ibuprofen if you are having difficulty keeping your temperature down.

Sore throats respond very well to painkillers; pastilles and lozenges are not sufficient on their own.

Congestion is helped by menthol or steam inhalations, decongestant nose sprays can be used for up to a week and you can try taking decongestants orally.

Remember that if you are feverish you will feel alternately hot and cold. Don't wrap up, even if you feel cold. Your body temperature will go even higher, making you feel worse.

Most common colds and flu last for 7-10 days, sometimes longer You should expect to feel rough for at least 3-5 days and then there may well be some obvious improvement even if you donít feel 100%. A cough can last for up to 3 weeks.

Antibiotics are not prescribed for viral illnesses. They don't help and could make matters worse. Help yourself by resting, drinking lots of fluids, take painkillers regularly and stop smoking.

Seek advice if you develop a pain in your chest, shortness of breath, cough blood, vomit persistently or have a severe headache which doesn't respond to painkillers.

Finally - a word of advice about meningitis. Whilst very rare, please be vigilant about recognizing the symptoms. In particular if you have been seen by a doctor or nurse and told that you have a viral infection you must seek further advice if you are getting worse rather than better, or develop any of the symptoms of meningitis.

Further information

This article published on
26 January 2006

Next review date 1/1/2013


Children's health

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Immune system

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