From a cough to sore throat and fever – how to relieve the symptoms of a cold this winter

But others can feel more serious and it's then that many of go to our GPs asking for medication that we don't really need.

Up to nine out of ten cases of symptoms are caused by a viral, as opposed to a bacterial, infection and can’t be fixed by antibiotics anyway, says Dr Nagete Boukhezra, London GP and clinical director at the Walk-In GP, London Doctors Clinic.

We reveal the common cold symptoms to look out for, and how to treat them:

1. Sore throat

A staggering 1.2 million people visit their doctor with a sore throat in the UK each year, but nine in ten of those will be caused by viruses.

In fact, sore throats are also the largest contributor to inappropriate antibiotic prescribing in England – amounting to almost a quarter of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions.

Sometimes bacterial infections can come with white spots on the back of the throat.

‘But other medical conditions can also lead to white spots on the throat, such as a tonsil stone or oral thrush,’ says Dr Boukhezra.

How to treat: "Over the counter painkillers can ease your sore throat pain," says Dr Boukhezra.

"Try gargling with salty water to alleviate symptoms and drink tea or hot water with honey and lemon. It might be helpful for your sore throat to have cool soft food and, in moderation, treat yourself with iced lollies."

Sore throat lozenges remedies like Strepsils can help to alleviate the symptoms of a sore throat. Or you could try Strefen (£4.95 from pharmacies) which contains an anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling and provide fast relief.

Find out for sure if you need antibiotics: The makers of Strepsils and Strefen are partnering with Superdrug Pharmacies to provide a quick, free sore throat consultation service.

The free ten-minute consultation service consists of a full examination which may include a swab test to identify whether your sore throat is bacterial and therefore whether antibiotics are needed.

2. Headache

"When you have a cold, the sinus cavities become inflamed," says Dr Boukhezra.

"The swelling from the inflammation leads to an elevation of the pressure behind the eyes, in the forehead and cheeks which leads to a headache."

Sometimes if you have a fever too, this can cause dehydration, which subsequently causes headaches, he explains.

How to treat: "Stay hydrated with plenty of fluids," says Dr Khodardi.

"Of course over the counter painkillers will help, as will anything that will help unblock the nose [see below] to help relieve the pressure."

One super-simple OTC remedy that doesn’t involve taking any drugs is a stick called 4Head (£3.69 from pharmacies) which you simply rub on your temples. It works really fast – we’re all addicted at Healthista HQ – because it contains levomenthol and is clinically proven to relieve headaches.

3. Runny or blocked nose

As your body fights the cold it produces excess nasal mucous, leading your nasal passages to become irritated and inflamed.

How to treat: "Drinking plenty of fluids will help to thin the mucus and to drain it faster, as will using a humidifier to increase the air moisture in your home," Dr Boukhezra recommends.

"There is some evidence to suggest steam inhalations can help reduce the congestion and saline sprays, which are completely harmless can soothe the nose and help you to breathe."

Try adding a few drops of Olbas Oil (£4.99 from pharmacies) to boiling water and inhaling for ten minutes – this really works to help loosen mucus – just have the tissues handy.

To help soothe or unblock the nose or even cleanse bugs from the nose, Sterimar Nasal Spray (£4.99 from pharmacies) works a treat.

What's the difference between cold and flu?

Both colds and flu are viral illnesses, says Dr Boukhezra.

While hundreds of different viruses can cause a cold, there are only three strains of the influenza virus.

"Often a flu will start with an abrupt onset of symptoms that are much more intense and severe than those of a cold, sometimes with high fever, chills, muscle and body aches and exhaustion.

"A flu may indeed last longer than a regular cold which usually resolves within a week or two – but this still won’t mean you need antibiotics as flus are viral."

The best protection against flu is the flu vaccine, which certain risk groups are able to get for free, so do check if you are eligible.

  •  You have a persistent fever or you develop a facial pain, an ear pain, a difficulty to swallow or a shortness of breath for example. These could indicate complications due to a secondary bacterial infection.
  • You suffer from a chronic medical condition (asthma, COPD, diabetes…) or if you are under treatment that can affect your immune system (chemotherapy), you are more at risk of developing complications. Younger children and older adults are also at a higher risk. If you have any concerns contact your GP.
  • Your symptoms are not improving after 10 days or if they get suddenly worse.

4. Cough

"Coughing is a normal reflex your body does to clear your airways," Dr Boukhezra asserts.

"A cough can actually last a few weeks after the virus has passed."

How to treat: "Hot lemon and honey can help ease the symptoms.

"Drink plenty of fluids to help thin the mucus. While cough medicine can help you cough less, there’s little evidence it will make the cough go away faster."

Taking steamy showers can also help break up mucus trapped in the chest or nasal membranes.

Always seek medical advice if your cough lasts more than three weeks.

5. Fever

"Fever is usually very slight for an adult during a cold," says Dr Boukhezra.

A sudden fever of over 38 degrees in adults is usually a sign of a flu (and still won’t need antibiotics).

How to treat: You can lower your fever with paracetamol and drinking plenty of fluids to help avoid dehydration. Of course, there is always the cool, damp washcloth on your forehead trick – thanks mum – some people use it on their underarms and wrists as well.

For fever in children, especially if they are six months old or under, the NHS recommends specific measures to ensure your baby is safe.

6. Aches and pains

While sudden or excessive aches and pains accompanied by chills and fever can signal a flu, a general feeling of aching will often accompany a cold and comes as a response to the inflammation your body will experience as your immune system fights the infection.

How to treat: "Make sure you allow the body time to repair and recuperate," says Dr Boukhezra.

"Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can reduce the pain and inflammation. You can also relax your muscles and ease tension by having a warm bath."

7. Dizziness

"Dizziness is a vague term that can include light-headedness and vertigo and there can be many causes," says Dr Boukhezra.

"It can sometimes be a sign of an ear infection which can often occur after a common cold."

How to treat: If you experience symptoms of dizziness it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible.

8. Sneezing

Sneezing can be a symptom of a cold due to an irritation of the mucous membranes developing as the cold progresses.

How to treat: Other than the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ rule of using tissues (because germs can live for several hours on tissues) – there’s little you can do stop sneezing.

Indeed, "There is no evidence that taking antihistamines can be effective for symptoms of a common cold and they, in fact, cause adverse effects," says Dr Boukhezra.

So it looks like it's simply a case of just riding the wave until the symptoms pass.

This story originally appeared on Healthisa and has been republished with permission.

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