Health Matters: Colds – Myths and Truths

Uppermill pharmacist IAN STRACHAN examines Colds  – Myths and Truths

CHEMIST: Ian Strachan
CHEMIST: Ian Strachan

My mother would say ‘Dry that hair or you’ll catch a cold’. Well that hair is a little  thinner these days and so is the myth.

You see only a cold virus and there’s an estimated 200 are responsible for catching a cold. The virus is passed by tiny droplets of mucus when sneezed or coughed into the air.

Sneezing into your hands then touching door knobs, even your eyes or nose provide routes to spreading a cold. Washing your hands helps eliminate the virus and minimise contamination to others.

Cold symptoms are typically  coughing, sneezing, blocked nose, headache with  accompanying sore throat, and a mildly raised temperature.

Do women develop more colds than men?

Well,  this myth would appear true. This is probably attributed to women having more interaction with children, as children acquire seven to ten colds a year in contrast to just two to three  in adults.

Let’s turn to the bigger myth:  Vitamin C may prevent colds or reduce the severity of symptoms?

On both counts the evidence is hardly compelling and I would discourage people from investing in such remedies.

Eating a healthy diet, regular exercise while  drinking plenty of warm drinks through the winter months is probably the best advice.


Steam inhalation loosens mucus and eases congestion. Menthol and eucalyptus preparations are also beneficial in clearing blocked passageways.

Steam inhalation is not advised for children. Vapour rubs for babies and young children can be beneficial when applied to the chest or back, although should never be applied to the nostrils as this can cause discomfort and breathing difficulties.

Gargling with salt and water may seem old fashioned but can help relieve symptoms of sore throats and nasal congestion. Salt preparations include Saline drops and spray which have gained popularity in recent years.

Effective pain relief is found in paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin. Children under 16 or breast feeding women should not take aspirin. Speak with your pharmacist when purchasing pain relief for children or indeed adults.

Decongestants have limited benefit and should not be used for more than 5 days as over usage may  worsen symptoms.

Many cold remedies contain multiple ingredients like painkillers, decongestants or antihistamines. Once again seek advice from your pharmacist before purchasing cold remedies and never exceed the stated dose.

Finally zinc supplements may be effective in treating colds especially when taken at the first sign of symptoms, however long term use should be discouraged.

Next month: hayfever

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