Rest is best for colds and flu
Viruses cause 100% of colds and flu. That means colds and flu can’t be fixed with antibiotics, and taking antibiotics won’t stop your cold or flu from getting worse. Antibiotics only help your body to fight infections caused by bacteria. Here’s what will help you feel better faster.
The 5 best ways to treat a cold or flu
Your body needs to rest in a warm, comfortable place to help your immune system fight the virus that caused your cold or flu. Stay home and take time off work or school if you need to.
Drink plenty of fluids (water or diluted fruit juice are great choices) to stop the membranes in your nose and throat getting dry, and keep your body well hydrated.
Take regular paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve any aches and pains or reduce a fever. Always take pain medication according to the dosage advised on the packet, or by your doctor or pharmacist.
A decongestant tablet or nasal spray may help dry a runny nose or relieve a blocked one, and give you some relief. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to suggest the right decongestant.
Lozenges & gargles
Sucking on a throat lozenge can soothe a sore throat. Gargling several times a day with warm salt water (1/2 tsp of salt in 1 cup water) can also help. Gargle the salt water in your throat for about 30 seconds and then spit it out.
Remember, rest and time off is important
Most cold and flu symptoms usually clear by themselves in 7 to 10 days, but it can sometimes take a few weeks to feel back to your usual self. It’s a good idea to rest and stay away from work or school when you are feeling most unwell, are sneezing or coughing often, or you have a very runny nose. You will still be infectious for 7-14 days after the start of a cold or flu, so do your best to stop spreading the virus to others.
Minimising the spread of colds and flu
There are simple things you and your family can do to stop the spread of colds and flu at home, school or at work. Here are some basic actions that everyone can take.
- Get immunised – don’t forget your annual influenza vaccination.
- Catch coughs and sneezes in the crook of your arm, or with a tissue. Throw the tissue into the bin, and wash your hands afterwards.
- Wash your hands often, with soap, for 20 seconds, and dry them well afterwards.
- Clean kitchen and bathroom surfaces regularly.
- Stay home and away from others when you’re sick.
Do you need to go to the doctor?
If you are usually healthy and well, your immune system will take care of most colds and flu.
See your doctor if you have:
- trouble breathing
- chest pain
- a skin rash
- a severe headache, stiff neck, or are sensitive to light.
- painful cough.
If your child has a cold or the flu, and is not improving, refusing food or drinks, is very irritable, grizzly or sleepy, or has a fever, sore ears, a cough, or a sore throat, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.
If you are at all worried about your condition:
- Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist
- Call Healthline free 24 hours a day: 0800 611 116
In an emergency, visit your local hospital or call 111.
We need to use antibiotics carefully, or they’ll stop working
Overusing antibiotics, especially when we don't need to, is causing antibiotic resistance – where bacteria get better at defending themselves and our antibiotics don’t work as well. Over time, antibiotics could stop working when we need them to, putting people’s lives at risk. It’s a global health threat, and we all need to help keep antibiotics working.
Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 for free advice from a trained registered nurse, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In an emergency visit your local hospital or call 111.
Last updated: 9 August 2018