Cough, cold and flu treatments

We look at which over-the-counter and natural remedies help combat colds and flu.
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03.Cold vs flu


Colds and flu produce very similar symptoms, which is why medications aimed at treating them often have “cold and flu” in their name. To confuse things, the influenza virus is responsible for at least some colds.

The main differences between colds and flu are:

  • Onset of severe flu symptoms is sudden; with a cold, the build-up is more gradual.
  • Flu starts with a dry sensation in the nose and throat and a dry cough; colds cause a runny nose and sneezing, and eventually a productive cough.
  • Flu causes a high fever; a cold sometimes causes only a mild fever.
  • Muscular pains, chills, and extreme tiredness occur with the flu, but not with a cold.

Preventing colds

  • Wash your hands often Cold viruses are transmitted through contaminated surfaces, such as handrails, doorknobs, and especially other people’s hands. If you then touch your eyes or nose, the virus may infect you. 
  • Get plenty of sleep People who sleep less than seven hours a night are more likely to get colds than people who sleep eight hours or more. 
  • Relax Stress can increase your susceptibility to colds, because of its general impact on decreasing resistance to infection. 
  • Keep your nose warm Rhinoviruses thrive in the slightly cooler atmosphere of the nose (about 33°C). Cold weather also dries out the nasal passages, making them more susceptible to infection. Theoretically , keeping your nose warmer in winter should help make it a less attractive environment.

Preventing and treating flu

Every year, thousands of Australians are hospitalised with flu complications, such as pneumonia, and almost 3000 people die each year.

Vaccination is a very successful means of preventing infection and spread of influenza through the community. Your best bet for avoiding the flu is to have an annual flu shot. Flu vaccines are reformulated each year to address the most prevalent flu viruses around, and are about 70-90% effective in healthy people.

The government has expanded eligibility criteria for free flu shots to the following groups, who are considered to be high-risk:

  • people aged 65 and over
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged from 15 years
  • pregnant women
  • people aged six months to 64 with chronic medical conditions including cardiac disease, respiratory conditions and impaired immunity.

It’s recommended that health care workers and people who work in aged care facilities also get vaccinated against seasonal flu, for the benefit of the individual and to help prevent the spread of disease. These shots aren’t free (unless the individual meets the eligibility criteria above), and if they're not made available through workplace programs, must be purchased on prescription. Ask your doctor for more information about eligibility and costs.

If you’ve come down with the flu, the anti-viral medication oseltamivir (Tamiflu) can reduce the severity and duration of the virus, and the likelihood of complications such as pneumonia. It must be taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms and is only available on prescription.


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