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Treating coughs and colds

Some people think that antibiotics are the answer - but they are wrong.

Now that the winter the season of colds, flu and other winter bugs is in full swing, we would like to help you to get clued up about how to treat common winter illnesses.

Coughs and colds are the most common viruses around during the winter months, but they can be treated at home with plenty of fluids, medicines from the pharmacy to ease your symptoms and plenty of rest.

Some people think that antibiotics are the answer – but they are wrong.

Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections, such as meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis, but they don’t work for viruses, such as coughs, colds and sore throats, that can get better by themselves.

Taking antibiotics encourages harmful bacteria that live inside you to become resistant. If you take antibiotics, when you don’t need them, the next time you get an infection it is more likely that antibiotics will not work, making it harder to treat.

Often people underestimate how long symptoms of a cough or cold can last, and they go to the doctor because they think they should be feeling better after a couple of days. But no-one should need to see a GP for a cold. Winter bugs can take some time to clear up and, in the majority of cases, antibiotics simply will not help.

As a guide, a cold can last for two weeks, and a cough can continue for three weeks. It is not unusual to have a sore throat or earache for seven to eight days and sinusitis in adults can last up to three weeks.”

Factsheets and videos
Our Treating Winter Illnesses factsheet covers colds, flu, the norovirus, coughs and chest infections and tells you how long you can expect common winter bugs to last for.

The two Antibiotics leaflets explain about using antibiotics wisely and why they are not usually necessary for winter illnesses.

You can download the factsheet and leaflets on the right of this page.