Did you know that antibiotics will NOT treat cold and flu
symptoms? to find out what you can do
to treat yourself better.

44% of people visit their GP expecting antibiotics for winter ailments which won’t work

Become an Antibiotic Guardian – choose your pledge here

1 in 4 people unnecessarily visit their GP or A&E as a first port of call when suffering from flu

3 out of 4 people don’t know pharmacists train for 5 years

Suffering with cold and flu symptoms? Save yourself a trip to your GP
and speak to your pharmacist first for advice on what is best for you.

Symptoms of a cold, cough, flu, nasal congestion and ear infection may last longer than you think. to find out how long you can expect them to last
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  • Your day by day guide to cold and flu symptoms and self-treatment.

    Scroll across to find out what symptoms
    to expect each day and for advice on
    what you can do to treat yourself without
    going to see the GP

    The majority of cold and flu symptoms will be over in 4-5 days but complete recovery can take up to 10 days and sometimes longer. There is no ‘cure’ but you can treat the symptoms with some practical self-help measures and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines (sold without a prescription) which don’t require a trip to your GP. Your pharmacist can advise on what OTC medicines are best for you.

    If you have flu, this is the time when you will have a high temperature and symptoms that come on quickly. You will be shivering with a headache, muscle aches in your back and legs and you may feel dizzy. The high temperature should go down within 48 hours. If you have a cold, this is the incubation stage (the time between catching an infection and symptoms appearing) meaning there are no symptoms to tell you that you have contracted a cold virus.

    What you can do:

    • Get plenty of rest, preferably in bed.

    • Drink plenty of fluids.

    • You could take paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce
      your temperature and ease aches and pains.

    87% of people
    are unaware that a
    cold can last 1 ½ weeks

    What's happening
    to your body?

    A strong sneeze can travel the length of a bus or tube
    carriage and you may have picked up your cold or flu
    by inhaling infected droplets from someone else’s
    sneeze in this kind of environment. The virus contained
    in those droplets has got past your body’s first line of
    defence – the hairs and mucus in the nose, which traps
    them – or you have introduced them by touching your
    nose or eyes after being in contact with someone with
    a cold or flu. The virus is taking over your cells and using
    them to reproduce by the million.

    When to seek medical advice.
    Most cold and flu symptoms can be treated without a trip to your GP. If you
    display any warning signs, seek medical advice.

    Find your nearest pharmacy...

  • If you have flu, your temperature should be dropping now and from this stage on your symptoms will be similar to those you would get with a cold. If you have a cold, the first signs appear on day 2 with a tickle or soreness in the nose and/or throat and sometimes in the eyes. The sore throat gets worse and a dry cough might start. You start sneezing and your nose starts to run. Usually with a cold, adults do not get a high temperature, although children may do.

    80% of people think that flu symptoms last only 10 days, when flu can in fact last up to 2 weeks

    What's happening to your body?

    Cells in the nose and throat release chemicals to defend
    you against the virus. These chemicals irritate the cells and cause
    itchiness and soreness and make you sneeze. By now a large
    number of cells have been killed off by the virus and the nose
    produces a watery mucus to wash them out. Mounting the
    counter-attack against the virus takes a lot out of you, and you
    will feel tired and unwell.

    When to seek medical advice.
    Most cold and flu symptoms can be treated without a trip to your GP. If you display any warning signs, seek medical advice.

    What you can do:

    • It’s probably best to stay at home to avoid spreading
      your cold to others.

    • Take it easy and rest if possible.

    • Keep warm and keep the atmosphere moist.

    • Drink plenty of fluids, as you will lose a lot through
      mucus production and possibly perspiration.

    • You could take paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce
      your temperature.

    • If your throat is very sore take a cough lozenge or
      use a spray.

    • Avoid smoking, as it will further irritate the throat and
      the lining of the nose.

    Find your nearest pharmacy...

  • The discharge from the nose may change from clear and watery to
    thicker and yellowish in colour. Your nose starts to feel very stuffy
    and blocked up, and you might get pain in the forehead and around
    and behind the eyes. If the infection is a really nasty one adults may
    still have a slight fever.

    What you can do:

    • Continue to drink plenty of fluids.

    • You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen
      if you still have a temperature.

    • Use steam inhalations to make the mucus
      in your nose and chest more liquid and help
      get rid of it.

    • A cough is a normal function of the body as
      it tries to get rid of phlegm. It can be relieved
      with a cool drink but if it continues to be
      troublesome, a range of cough mixtures
      are available.

    • Sleep with your head on a high pillow if
      your nose is stuffed up at night.

    2 in 3 people expect a sore throat to last just 4 days, when it could last a week

    What's happening to your body?

    Catarrh is a mixture of mucus and white blood cells produced to fight off infections. It drips from the nasal passage into the throat causing a phlegmy, chesty cough as the body tries to get rid of the catarrh. The tissues in the windpipe also get congested, so that air passes through less easily and you could become wheezy.

    When to seek medical advice.
    Most cold and flu symptoms can be treated without a trip to your GP. If you display any warning signs, seek medical advice.

    Find your nearest pharmacy...


  • Symptoms usually start to subside
    but can last two weeks, sometimes
    a bit longer. Understanding this
    time frame, coupled with knowing
    what warning signs to look out for
    should stop unnecessary visits to
    your GP.


    When to seek medical advice.
    Most cold and flu symptoms can be treated without a trip to your GP. If you display any warning signs, seek medical advice.

    What's happening to your body?

    The virus has been defeated. It is now just a matter of time until things get back to normal. But it may be a couple of weeks until the catarrh has all gone, the coughing stops and the swollen tissues in the nose and chest shrink down again.

    What you can do:

    • Go back to your normal activities.

    • Keep on with medication if you need to,
      until the symptoms have gone completely.

    9 in 10 people don't know that
    a cough can last up to 3 weeks,
    expecting it to last just 8 days

    Find your nearest pharmacy...

Warning Signs

Seek medical advice by speaking to or seeing a
doctor if you notice any of the following warning
signs, which may suggest that your symptoms
could possibly be caused by a more serious
underlying condition or may require medical
attention.

Sore Throat

High fever - You have a persistent high temperature over 38oC for more than 3 days that does not come down even if you take ibruprofen and/or paracetamol

Glandular fever - A sore throat that doesn’t get better within 10 to 14 days or that gets worse rather than better may suggest glandular fever

Breathing - You find it hard to breathe in, and your throat feels like it’s closing up

Drooling and swallowing - You’re drooling and find it difficult to swallow - this is an emergency!

Severity - Your pain is severe and does not respond to over the counter pain killers

Voice changes - Your voice becomes muffled

Fluid intake - You find it difficult to drink enough fluids and become dehydrated

Effect on day to day life - Your symptoms are so bad that they severely affect your quality of life and prevent you from functioning normally

HIV/AIDS or other causes of reduced immunity - If you suffer from a sore throat and have a deficient immune system because, for example, you have HIV/AIDS, or you take certain medication (such as chemotherapy, high dose steroids, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or a drug called carbimazole), you should seek medical advice if you develop a sore throat

Earache (otitis media/middle
ear infection)

High fever - Your child has a body temperature of over 38°C (if between the ages of 0-3 months), or over 39°C (if between the ages of 3-6 months)

Duration - You or your child’s symptoms are severe and you do not see any improvements after 24 hours

Fluid - You notice fluid leaking from the ear

Additional symptoms - Your child shows additional symptoms, such as being sick, feeling dizzy, and/or they have a stiff neck, a rash, slurred speech, confusion, seizures (fits), and/or are sensitive to light

Cough

Coughing up blood - You cough up blood for no obvious reason

Duration - Your cough is getting no better within 3 to 4 weeks

Chest or shoulder pain - In addition to your cough, you have chest and/or shoulder pain

Breathlessness - You find it difficult to breathe

Weight loss - You’re losing weight for no apparent reason over a period of 6 weeks or more

Voice changes - Your voice becomes hoarse for longer than 3 weeks, and the hoarseness persists after the cough has settled

New lumps or swellings - You notice new swellings anywhere in the neck or above the collarbones

Cold and Flu


High fever - You have a high temperature above 39°C that does not come down even if you take ibuprofen and/or paracetamol

Effect on day to day life - You are confused or disorientated

Pain in chest - You notice a sharp pain in your chest

Breathing - You are experiencing difficulty in breathing

Fluids - You cough up blood-stained phlegm (thick mucus)

Swollen glands - You notice a swelling of the glands in your neck and/or armpits

Duration - Your symptoms last longer than 3 weeks

Sinusitis


High fever - You have a persistent high temperature of over 39°C that does not come down even if you take ibuprofen and/or paracetamol

Effect on day to day life - You feel really unwell and/or you are confused or disorientated

Severe pain - You suffer severe pain or discomfort in your face

Discharge from the nose - Your nose produces lots of thick green/yellow fluid

Other medical conditions - If you suffer from other conditions, you may be at high risk of complications if you develop sinusitis

Expert Advice

Dr Rob Hicks, GP

How long can I expect cold and flu symptoms to last for?

Dr Rob Hicks offers some guidance on how long you can expect cold and flu symptoms to last for, what symptoms to expect and what you can do to treat yourself better. If you are suffering with a cough, cold, sore throat, flu, nasal congestion or ear infection, speak to your pharmacist first for advice on what is best for you.

About Dr Rob Hicks

Dr Rob Hicks is a practising GP based in Greater London. He is also a medical consultant and contributor to a number of national radio and TV stations, newspapers and magazines and online health sites.


Raj Patel, Pharmacist

What can I do to treat myself better for cold and flu symptoms without going to see my doctor?

Pharmacist Raj Patel provides you with advice on what you can do at home to treat cold and flu symptoms and which types of medicines will be most effective. If you are suffering with a cough, cold, sore throat, flu, nasal congestion or ear infection, speak to your pharmacist first for advice on what is best for you.

About Raj Patel

Raj Patel is Superintendent Pharmacist of Mount Elgon Pharmacy based in London. He is also a National Pharmacy Association Board Member and Chairman of Merton, Sutton & Wandsworth Local Pharmaceutical Committee.

Men's Advice

We all know how frustrating it can be when you get struck down with a cough, cold, sore throat, flu or even nasal congestion. It can make you feel rough and impact on your day-to-day lifestyle. Booking an appointment with your GP might seem like the best option, but in most cases you can save yourself the hassle and pop into your local pharmacy instead.

Martin Todd of the Men’s Health Forum says: “The stats show that men don’t visit their GPs as often as women and are more likely to go soldier on and go to work when ill, but all the same a surprising number of us take time out of our already busy schedules to visit the GP or even A&E. It’s not necessary. A visit to your local pharmacist can be quick, convenient and more effective since often they don’t need antibiotics and other drugs that only a doctor can prescribe. Your pharmacist can advise on how easy it can be to treat coughs and colds at home.”

Below Pharmacist Raj Patel answers your key questions about cold and flu.

1. I’ve always headed to my GP when I am suffering with cold and flu symptoms, isn’t this the right thing to do?

35% of men who admit to visiting their GP for a cold say that they made the trip because the thought they needed antibiotics.i What a lot of people don’t know is that antibiotics aren’t actually effective at treating coughs, colds and sore throats and over prescribing of antibiotics can cause bugs to become resistant. When you do them need to treat an infection, they may not work.

2. My family has used the same doctor for years and I am more comfortable visiting my GP than talking to a stranger, why should I see a pharmacist?

On average, men said they wait less than 5 minutes to see their pharmacist for cold and flu compared to a 3 ½ day wait just for a GP appointment. 18% even reported waiting more than a week. Just think of all the time you’ll save so you can spend more time doing the things that really matter to you rather than sitting in a doctor’s surgery.

3. Don’t pharmacists just dish out medicines that have been prescribed by my GP? Will they really be able to give me personalised advice?

Pharmacists train for 5 years and whilst we are qualified to dispense prescription medicines, we can also provide you with specific treatment advice for your individual symptoms and recommend which over-the-counter medicines will be best for you. If your symptoms are more serious, we can advise you on whether you need to see your GP.

4. I’m in full time employment therefore it’s really difficult for me to get away from work to even speak to a pharmacist for advice. I tend to just put up with my symptoms, do you have any suggestions?

When you work full time or are self-employed, it can be difficult to find time to pop into a pharmacy. However, a lot of pharmacies do now have extended opening hours (often open until 7pm on selected days of week) and pharmacies within supermarkets tend to be open later as well (some as late as 10pm). Click here to find your nearest pharmacy and check the opening times so that you can find a time which won’t disrupt your working day.

5. I’ve been suffering with a cold for around five days, and whist I don’t think it is serious, I am pretty fed up surely now it is time to go to my GP for antibiotics?

Having a cold for around 5 days can be really frustrating and make you feel pretty rough, however, what a lot us aren’t aware of is that it’s very normal for a cold to last up to 1 ½ weeks. The majority of colds are caused by a virus, therefore no matter how long you’ve had symptoms for, antibiotics won’t help. Next time you pass your local pharmacy, pop in and ask the pharmacist for advice. If you are concerned your symptoms are more serious check out the warning signs [here] which indicate you might need to see your GP.

6. How long can I expect other symptoms such as flu, nasal congestion, a sore throat or cough to last?

Symptoms will last for longer than you might think. An ear infection can last for up to 4 days, a sore throat can cause discomfort for 1 week, flu for 2 weeks, nasal congestion up to 2 ½ weeks and a cough can last up to 3 weeks. If symptoms persist for longer than these time periods then you might need to visit your GP.

7. What can I do at home to beat cold and flu symptoms?

Take comfort at home if you are suffering with cold and flu symptoms and take advantage of the sofa. Drink plenty of fluids and use the opportunity to catch up on some TV. If your temperature is high, try taking a paracetamol or ibuprofen. Lozenges can help with sore throats and it is also helpful to cut back on smoking to avoid irritating your throat any further. If your symptoms persist, it is always worth taking 5 minutes to talk to your pharmacist for advice.

8. Where can I find out more information?

For advice on how long common winter symptoms should last for and for expert advice on self-treating cold and flu symptoms, with the help of your pharmacist, check out the Treat Yourself Better website at www.treatyourselfbetter.co.uk

Frequently Asked
Questions

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  • 1. How long can I expect my cold, flu, cough, sore throat, sinusitis and middle ear infection symptoms to last?

    Middle ear infection – at least 4 days
    Sore throat – 1 week
    Cold – 1 ½ weeks
    Flu - 2 weeks
    Nasal congestion / Sinusitis – 2 ½ weeks
    Cough – up to 3 weeks

    2. Should I go to the doctor or get an antibiotic for winter symptoms such as a cold, flu, cough, sore throat, sinusitis and middle ear infection?

    These symptoms are caused by viruses. Antibiotics only work against bacteria so they will not work for these symptoms.

    3.When should I see a doctor or seek medical advice if I have winter symptoms?

    Most cold, flu, cough, sore throat, sinusitis and middle ear infection symptoms get better by themselves, but in a few cases when the symptoms are severe you should see the doctor.

    4. Are over-the-counter medicines really effective for winter symptoms such as a cold, flu, cough, sore throat, sinusitis and middle ear infection?

    There is no “cure” for these symptoms, but over the counter medicines work to relieve symptoms and make you feel more comfortable while your body fights the virus.

    5. Can my pharmacist recommend what medicines are best for my symptoms?

    Pharmacists are experts on medicines and can help you choose the medicine that will work best for your symptoms. The pharmacist can also help you assess your symptoms and advise you whether you need to see a doctor.

  • 6. Should I stay at home if I have a cold, flu, cough, sore throat, sinusitis or middle ear infection?

    Listen to your body and if you are tired get some rest until you feel better. Treat your symptoms to feel more comfortable. You will usually know when you are well enough to return to normal activities.

    7. What’s the difference between a virus and bacteria?

    Some bacteria, such as gut bacteria, are essential for good health. When they do cause infections they are usually localised and antibiotics can kill them. Viruses are parasites whose only purpose is to multiply. No medicine kills a virus. You have to wait for your body’s natural processes to isolate and destroy a virus.

    8. What should I do if my child has a fever?

    It is normal for your child to have a fever if they are fighting an infection and fever does not harm your child. However, you can help your child by giving them Paracetamol and/or Ibuprofen. Sometimes sponging your child with cold water could cause them to shiver and further increase their temperature, but luke warm water may help a little. Some younger children may have a seizure as a result of a fever. If this happens, try not to panic and put your child in the recovery position.

    If your child has not had a fit before and it does not pass quickly it is best to call an ambulance. As fevers are normally caused by viruses, antibiotics are not normally effective in treating them. For further information and advice, download the ‘When should I worry’ leaflet.

    9. What shall I do if my child has a cough, cold, sore throat or earache?

    A child’s immune system is very powerful and most common infections, such as a cough, cold, sore throat and/or earache, will clear up by itself. However, there are some things you can do to assist your child in their recovery, such as ensuring your child has plenty of rest, giving them healthy food and ensuring they are well hydrated by giving them plenty to drink. This will also help break up any phlegm and will lubricate their throat if it is sore. Paracetamol and/or Ibuprofen can also help to relieve pain and/or fever, although make sure you do not give more than the maximum dose. As most common infections are caused by viruses, antibiotics are not normally effective and by giving your child antibiotics, it can make the bacteria resistant to them meaning they will no longer work against the bacteria.

    Only children with signs of more serious illness generally need to be seen by a doctor or nurse. These signs include: excessive drowsiness, difficulty breathing or rapid breathing, cold or discoloured hands and/or feet with warm body, abnormal pains in arms and/or legs, abnormal colour (pale or blue), signs of meningitis. For further information and advice, download the ‘When should I worry’ leaflet.

Media Centre

For more information please contact the
Treat Yourself Better Press Office at Red Door Communications

HCP Hub

This section and its content has been developed for health care professionals only. By clicking okay you are confirming that you are a healthcare professional.

Treat Yourself Better with Pharmacist Advice is a new campaign which encourages people to treat common winter ailments (such as a cough, cold, sore throat, flu, nasal congestion or ear infection) themselves and to visit their pharmacist as a first port of call for advice on what is best for them, before making an unnecessary visit to their GP surgery or A&E department.

You can help support the campaign by displaying a poster in your surgery or pharmacy and giving your patients a leaflet containing self-care advice for winter ailments. If you wish to print the poster and / or leaflet professionally, please email treatyourselfbetter@rdcomms.com to request a high resolution file/s

Poster

Click to download

When will I feel better?

Provides information on how long symptoms of cough, colds, flu, sore throat, ear infection and nasal congestion can last. It also informs people that antibiotics will not treat common winter ailments and encourages them to speak to their pharmacist for advice on what they can do to treat their symptoms.

Leaflet

Click to download

When will I get better? What can I do to get better this winter?

Provides advice on how to self-treat common winter ailments, how long symptoms usually last for and what warning signs to look out for.

If you are printing this leaflet on both sides of paper, you may need to select “Flip on short edge” in your printer settings.

Click here to access the TARGET (Treat Antibiotics Responsibly, Guidance, Education, Tools) antibiotics toolkit from the RCGP which includes additional patient leaflets.

Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education – free educational resources for pharmacy and other healthcare providers

References

The Treat Yourself Better with Pharmacist Advice campaign has been developed
by Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) and Pharmacy Voice