The cold winter months can have a detrimental effect on health in a variety of ways but community pharmacy teams are on hand to play a key role. Lindsey Tier explains…


The common cold is caused by a variety of viral upper respiratory tract infections. Although colds are usually self-limiting, some people go to their GP for treatment and there is significant concern about over-prescribing of antibiotics as these are not necessary for viral infections and will not improve outcomes.

Self-management, getting advice from the pharmacist and taking OTC medicines are usually much better options and to be encouraged. However, care needs to be taken where the person is taking prescribed medication as interactions with ingredients in OTC cold medicines can occur.

Pharmacists have an important role in educating people on the self-limiting nature of colds, discouraging visits to the GP, but being vigilant in evaluating vulnerable groups of people such as children, frail older people who may be at risk of pneumonia and people with pre-existing chronic conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cardiovascular disease.

Symptoms of the common cold generally last for 1-2 weeks, but cough may persist after the worst of the cold is over and can last for three weeks. Colds are often best treated with warm drinks and analgesics where necessary.
Sore throats, which can be the first sign of a cold, generally last about a week.

Most sore throats are caused by a viral infection yet they are one of the main reasons for prescribing antibiotics.

In most cases prescriptions are unnecessary. Overuse of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance, which is a growing problem worldwide. Sore throats are best treated with an analgesic spray such as Ultra Chloraseptic, which contain Benzocaine and targets relief exactly where it’s needed, providing superior sugar-free numbing relief straight to the point of pain in seconds.

Differentiating between a cold and flu can be difficult but important in deciding when to refer vulnerable at risk people. Symptoms of rapid onset over a few hours are thought to be more indicative of flu whilst those of more gradual onset over a few days are thought to be more likely due to a cold.

Feeling hot and the presence of a fever may also be more likely due to flu than a cold. Flu usually starts abruptly with sweats and chills, muscular aches and pains, sore throat and high temperature.

The person may not be able to go about their usual activities and malaise and fatigue may last for a week or more after the worst of the flu symptoms have gone. Most uncomplicated forms of flu do not require treatment with antibiotics but care should be taken to refer at risk groups.

Pharmacists should encourage annual flu vaccination as appropriate. The NHS provides vaccination to all over the age of 65 and younger people who have chronic respiratory disease, chronic heart disease, diabetes, chronic renal, failure, neurological disease or those on immunosuppression therapy.

Pregnant woman and people in long care stay facilities should also be offered flu vaccination. Flu nasal spray vaccination is routinely offered to children in specific age groups. Recommendations are updated every year so it is advisable to check up on any changes.

Pharmacists can use their patient medication records to target people each autumn to remind them to have a flu vaccination. Over half of community pharmacists in England are now commissioned by the NHS to provide flu vaccinations.

When people seek help with colds and flu it is worth talking about preventing transmission of the common cold by basic hygiene. When someone has a cold, these precautions include washing hands frequently with soap and hot water or use of an ethanol-based hand sanitiser where access to soap and water is difficult, and not sharing towels, or in the case of an infected child, toys.

People should use tissues to cover their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing and put the tissue in the bin immediately afterwards.

OTC medicines for cold and flu are an important sector for pharmacists and symptomatic treatment with these products usually makes the person feel better.

Pharmacists will be well aware of the treatment options and the need to select the most appropriate product based on the person’s symptoms, preferences and any contraindications or interactions.


Lindsey Tier is marketing manager for Ultra Chloraseptic.