Coughs, Colds, Flu
Colds and influenza are caused by viruses. In three or four days your body will make enough antibodies to kill the virus. However, the virus may have irritated the lining of the breathing passages and this may cause a cough. A cough is not a bad thing: it is there for a reason. It helps defends your lungs by making sure that any secretions your tubes produce are coughed up rather than settling in the lower lungs where they would cause trouble. Similarly “phlegm” or “sputum” is there to act as a barrier to catch the dust and germs that we breathe in.
Assuming you are otherwise feeling well, you need not worry if your cough and phlegm takes two or three weeks to settle, especially if you are getting gradually better. Coughs may be worse at night because you are breathing in cold, dry air which irritates the breathing passages. Smoking or inhaling other people’s smoke makes coughs worse.
Your doctors will not prescribe antibiotics for coughs, colds and flu-like illnesses because they do not work against viruses. Antibiotics can cause side-effects. Some bacteria develop resistance to the antibiotic which can prevent it helping when it is really needed. Coughing prevents mucus from blocking the air passages. It can be dangerous to try to stop this with cough mixture.
- The best treatment for adults is steam inhalations. Add a teaspoon of vapour rub or menthol crystals to a bowl of steaming water. Put a towel over head and bowl, and inhale for ten minutes. Do this four times a day.
- Humidify the air, especially in the bedroom. Boil a kettle once in the bedroom when there is a bout of coughing.
- Hot drinks can be soothing.
- Paracetamol (or soluble Aspirin for children over 12 years old) can be used if there is a fever. Please speak to a pharmacist who will be able to advise.
- Stop smoking and avoid smoky rooms.
When to see The Doctor
- If the coughing is accompanied by breathlessness or pain in the chest or lasts longer than 3 weeks
- If coughing produces blood.
- If coughing produced UNUSUAL yellow or green phlegm. The following complaints do not usually require antibiotics: Coughs, colds, hoarseness, sore throats, flu-like illnesses, acute bronchitis in young people and asthma.