Cold and flu advice from our Horsham doctors

I am unwell with the cold or flu, what should I do?

Patients have varying responses to their illness depending on who they are, but there are some common guidelines our Horsham doctors provide regarding colds and flu.

Around 70-80 per cent of cold and flu symptoms are caused by viruses – so it is quite acceptable to stay home in bed, drinking plenty of fluids and taking over-the-counter cold and flu medications found at the pharmacy.

If there is no improvement after three days it is wise to consult a doctor. In some cases, the doctor might be powerless to prescribe a treatment for the following reasons:

  • antibiotics have no activity against viruses. Although many patients request these antibiotics, they can cause an increase in resistance among bacteria that are normally in your airways – despite our attempts to clean ourselves with soap, water and mouthwash, our skin and airways are covered in a variety of bacteria.
  • With children, antibiotics should be avoided where viral infection is suspected and where the child is not continuously vomiting. Taking symptomatic medication and rehydration fluids should help the immune system overcome the virus. It is possible that too many antibiotics before the age of four increases the incidence of middle ear infections, needing grommet insertion.

The other problem with viruses is some have very few symptoms or even no symptoms (subclinical infections), while other patients have a range of symptoms including runny nose, cough, sore throat and fevers. This leads patients to seek antibiotics earlier, so if they are better after a week they ascribe this to the antibiotic – whereas often their immune system does all the hard work and simply clears the virus out of the body simultaneously to them taking an antibiotic.

This is not a call to avoid medical attention. If you have a severe symptom, such as headache that is not responding to repeated doses of nurofen, paracetamol or panadeine, it could signify something more serious than a virus infection and an earlier visit may be justified.

Many patients obviously still have great faith in antibiotics, and ask the doctor for the same. This occurs especially when patients have a greater distance to travel to obtain medical care. It is our duty to care for you and sometimes antibiotics are provided even when the suspicion is that you suffer from a viral infection.

Bacterial infections usually occur after initial symptoms – for instance, tonsillitis generally develops some days after an initial ‘sore throat’ and probably needs antibiotics if it occurs.

Please contact us if you would like more information from our Horsham doctors about managing your cold or flu.