Combatting the Common Cold: Proven Strategies for Managing Colds, Coughs, and Flu Symptoms

Combatting the Common Cold: Proven Strategies for Managing Colds, Coughs, and Flu Symptoms

Coughs are very aggravating. They affect everyone and discriminate against none. Worst of all, they seem to linger and take a long time to get over—yes, we lose years over a cough (though they usually last for weeks in real-time). This article will discuss different types of coughs and management advice.

Types of Coughs

Coughs are the body’s natural way of clearing the airways. There are two ways of classifying coughs: (a) their duration and onset and (b) the presence and absence of mucous (phlegm).

Note: If you are taking medication and have developed a cough, speak to your pharmacist or GP, as your medication may require a review.

Why does my GP refuse to prescribe antibiotics for my cough?

Antibiotics are not routinely prescribed for viral infections, as they are ineffective. Over-the-counter remedies are available to provide symptomatic relief (see below).

Sometimes, GPs may choose to prescribe an antibiotic for a viral infection due to the presence of complications or perhaps a secondary infection.

Often, patients request antibiotics from their GP due to the misconception that antibiotics ‘are the solution to everything.’ All medicines have side effects, and if a person takes an antibiotic they may not need, they may develop antibiotic resistance. If you feel unwell or are concerned about your symptoms, speak to your pharmacist or GP.

Coughs in Children

After a review conducted by the Commission on Human Medicines over the safety of cough and cold medicines, it was found that medicines containing any of the following ingredients are unsafe for children under the age of 6 and must not be used over the counter.

These active ingredients include expectorants (guaifenesin and ipecacuanha); nasal decongestants (ephedrine, oxymetazoline, phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine, and xylometazoline); antitussives (dextromethorphan); and antihistamines (brompheniramine, chlorphenamine, diphenhydramine, doxylamine, promethazine, and triprolidine).

Speak to your pharmacist before selecting a product for children aged 6- 12 with cough or cold symptoms.

Over-the-counter treatments for coughs

Lozenges or pastilles

  • Sucking on these products can provide relief.
  • To keep the throat lubricated.

Traditional herbal medicinal products

  • It can be used for different types of acute coughs – irrespective of whether mucous is produced.
  • E.g. Bronchostop.

Aromatic vapour rubs

  • Applied to the chest and back to ease breathing and thus allow the individual to sleep better.
  • E.g. Vicks Vapour Rub.


  • Contains Glycerin or glycerol.
  • Coat and soothe the throat and provide temporary relief.
  • E.g., glycerin syrup, Tixylix, and CalCough Children’s Syrup.
  • Note: These products often have a high sugar content and may not be suitable for people with diabetes.


  • For dry or tickly coughs.
  • Contain Dextromethorphan.
  • Suppress the body’s cough reflex.
  • For example, Benylin is used for dry coughs, and Robitussin is used for dry coughs.


  • For chesty or productive coughs.
  • Contains Guaifenesin, ipecacuanha or squill.
  • It helps to loosen and clear mucus from the chest, making it easier to expel.
  • E.g. Covonia Chesty Cough Mixture Mentholated.

Note: Cough suppressants and expectorants should not be used interchangeably as they have opposing effects. Knowing your cough type is essential to select the correct medicine. Using the incorrect product can worsen your symptoms. If you are unsure about your symptoms, speak to your pharmacist.

Purpose of over-the-counter remedies

It is important to note that no over-the-counter medicines will cure your cough. Coughs are generally self-limiting and will get better themselves. Over-the-counter medicines provide symptomatic relief.

When should I see my GP?

  • Vomiting after coughing.
  • Chest, shoulder, neck or arm pain.
  • Swollen and painful glands in the neck.
  • Coughing up blood or coloured phlegm.
  • You are concerned about your symptoms, or you have other symptoms which were not mentioned above.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women.
  • Lumps or swellings in the neck.
  • A cough that is worse first thing in the morning, at night or after exercise.
  • Symptoms that have not resolved after three weeks.
  • A cough that is reoccurring and not resolving, irrespective of treatment.
  • Children under the age of 6.
  • Feeling generally unwell or have a weakened immune system.
  • You are taking any medication or having any medical conditions.
  • A barking cough, especially in children.
  • Sudden or unintentional weight loss.

Where can I get more information on coughs?

NHS website on Cough

Smoking Pack Years