THE TELL-TALE SIGNS
Cold symptoms can include a sore throat, sneezing, a blocked or runny nose, coughing and sometimes fever. Symptoms usually clear up in seven to 10 days without any treatment. Green or yellow mucus may also come out of the nose, which is usually a sign of the immune system fighting the cold, says Dr Danielle Stowasser, clinical adviser at NPS Medicinewise.
The flu is caused by a totally different virus, has much more severe symptoms and tends to last longer than a cold. “If you or your child have the flu, there may be similar symptoms to a cold, such as a sore throat, sneezing, a runny or blocked up nose, or a cough. But the flu is more likely to cause fever and aching muscles, and the symptoms will come on more quickly. The flu is also more likely to make you or your child bedridden than a cold,” Dr Stowasser explains.
Rest and fluids are the key factors when it comes to promoting recovery! But as you wait for the sneezing and snuffling to come to an end there are several remedies for easing the symptoms. “For example, inhaling steam from a hot bath or shower can help relieve a blocked nose, though keep an eye on your children when it is done in a closed room,” Dr Stowasser says. For babies, nasal aspirators that suck snot away can improve comfort, as can saline drops.
“For older family members, help soothe a sore throat by gargling with warm salty water, sucking on an iceblock or drinking something soothing such as hot water with honey and lemon,” recommends Dr Stowasser.
Eta Brand, president of the Australian Naturopathic Practitioners Association, says that foods such as garlic, ginger and onions may be helpful, and that inhalations using essential oils including eucalyptus can also give relief for blocked noses.
Dry, tickly coughs can persist long after the other symptoms of colds and flus have died away – they can last anywhere up to three weeks, according to Dr Stowasser. Eta says that honey, ginger and lemon juice made into a syrup is a great way to soothe the coughing and dry, raw throats.
IN THE MEDICINE BOX
Paracetamol and anti-inflammatories can help ease fever and aches, but it’s vital to check the dosage instructions. For young kids in particular there can be the risk of overdose, so follow the directions and keep track of how much is being given, when.
Lozenges to ease a sore throat can be used by grown-ups and some can be offered to older children – if you want to know whether you can give a lozenge to your littlie, ask your pharmacist. For adults, while cold and flu tablets don’t actively fight the illness, they can ease the symptoms and help with rest, Dr Kosterich explains.
Over-the-counter decongestants aren’t recommended for under-twos and should never be used without talking to your local doctor first, while cough syrups should never be given to children under the age of six.
WHAT ABOUT ANTIBIOTICS?
Antibiotics are only effective in treating infections that are caused by bacteria, which means they are of absolutely no use in fighting cold and flu viruses. Even in the case of bacterial respiratory tract infections, the body’s immune system is often able to take care of things without the aid of antibiotics. These drugs may, however, be needed for more serious bacterial illnesses.