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Cold & flu tablets: the right choice for me?

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What would you do with a spare half a billion dollars?

That’s roughly the amount that Australians spend on cold & flu tablets each year. The economic cost of a cold or the flu is much higher than this, though. Think of all the hours missed, or the time spent sniffling and working at a reduced capacity.

Of course, on one level, the economic cost shouldn’t be too concerning. You can’t put a price on your health. I certainly don’t recommend going to work sick – especially in the new Coronavirus era.

But there’s a personal cost to having a cold and flu, too. It means you can’t be at 100%. You can’t be the partner, the parent, the person that you want to be.

And, to put it in simple terms: it’s just plain uncomfortable having a cold or flu. Take the flu. Common symptoms include fever, fatigue, aches, vomiting, a runny nose, a sore throat … the list goes on.

Por Que no Los dos?

You may have seen the Mexican food advertisement where a family argues over whether hard tacos or soft tacos are superior (my humble opinion: soft tacos). A little girl solves the tension with an innocent suggestion: por que no los dos? Translation: why not both?

Australians seem to have a similar view of the cold and the flu. I don’t mean that anybody wants both the cold and the flu. What I mean is that Australians seem to think that the cold and the flu are essentially the same, or that the flu is simply a more serve version of the cold. This couldn’t be further from the truth. To start, though, let’s look at some similarities between the cold and the flu:

  • Both are caused by viruses, not by being exposed to rain, cool air, or moisture
  • Both share symptoms like fever, sore throat, and sneezing
  • Both should be taken seriously if the symptoms are severe or if you have underlying health conditions
  • Neither can be treated using antibiotics

Cold and the flu: the key differences

Despite the similarities between the cold and the flu – and the interchangeable way that we often speak about them – it is important to recognise some key differences.

Firstly, there is currently no vaccination available for the common cold. On the other hand, a flu vaccination each year (or twice a year for vulnerable Australians) can keep you and your family safe.

Secondly, while there are many shared symptoms, the flu tends to be more severe. For example, while a cold can sometimes cause body aches, these often accompany the flu and can be severe in nature. This is true for coughs, also: a cough is often a symptom of a cold; coughs commonly accompany the flu and can be severe in nature.

Finally, while you should always seek medical assistance if your symptoms become severe, you are far more likely to need medical intervention if you have the flu.

Treating the cold or the flu

Despite these differences, you can take a number of key steps that help to treat the cold or the flu. When you are unwell, ensure that you get plenty of rest. As much as you can, be firm and clear with your place of work, insisting on the need to recover well. Resist the temptation to answer emails, finish that report, or chip in to the big project. Find a comfortable, warm place, get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, and perhaps catch up on a Netflix series guilt-free.

Cold & flu tablets can provide effective relief from symptoms. These often come in non-drowsy and night-time variants; choose the option that works best for your needs. Many packs include a variety of tablets to help ensure that you have relief, day or night.

Many cold & flu tablets include decongestants that help relieve tenacious coughs. These work by reducing the blood flow to parts of the nose, which in turn reduces uncomfortable swelling and congestion. In Australia, phenylephrine is the most common decongestant. You can purchase cold & flu tablets with phenylephrine over the counter; to buy medicine with pseudoephedrine, you will first need to speak to your pharmacist or receive a script from your GP.

Cold & flu tablets often also contain paracetamol. This can help treat a sore throat due to its anti-inflammatory products. Because there is a limit to the amount of paracetamol that you should take at a time, make sure that you do not pair cold & flu tablets with other medicinal products that contain paracetamol.

With all this in mind, it’s unsurprising that cold & flu tablets can help to

  • Relieve a runny nose
  • Decongest sinuses
  • Alleviate headaches and muscle pain
  • Reduce overall symptoms and increase your comfort as you recover

Better together

I have recently been watching a TV series called Alone. In it, ten survivalists are dropped into different parts of the Canadian wilderness with nothing more than a video camera, ten items of their own choosing, the clothes on their back, and a satellite phone from which they can call to quit the show. They must stay in the wilderness for as long as possible. The last person out there wins half a million dollars. And, as the title suggests, they are utterly alone.

Of course, part of the point of the show is that it is best not to be alone. People work better in a community, in tandem with others.

It’s the same with cold & flu tablets: they work best when part of a recovery team.

What should that recovery team look like? It might include:

  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated,
  • Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly to strengthen your overall immune system,
  • Speaking to your GP about effective preventative measures,
  • Avoiding cigarette smoke, andTaking a hot bath or shower; the vapours can help to clear your nose and provide relief to your sinuses.

To return to our original question: what would you do with a spare half a billion dollars? Of course, the answer is entirely personal. Here’s the funny thing: even if you joined the ranks of the world’s mind-bogglingly rich, you’d still get a cold every now and then. The flu would at some point catch up to you – it is the ultimate equal-opportunity infector, totally uncaring of whether its next victim is Elon Musk or Ellen from accounting.

For that reason, whoever you are, whatever your job, let me humbly suggest that you eat healthily, exercise regularly, speak to your doctor as required, and be prepared to act wisely when a cold or the flu strikes. And when it does, I do hope that you recover well.