Self Care at Christmas: Colds


Colds are the blight of many a Christmas holiday season as with so many people in busy shopping centres and everyone coming together to celebrate, they are very easily spread at this time of year. Although colds are a mild illness, they can leave you feeling pretty rotten and dampen your Christmas spirit. If you or a loved one end up coming down with a cold over the holidays, the following information may prove useful to you.

Symptoms of a cold are usually:

  • A blocked/runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • A mild temperature
  • General feeling of tiredness/malaise

Sometimes you may experience:

  • Loss of appetite (common in children)
  • Earache
  • Muscular pain
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Mild irritation of your eyes
  • A feeling of pressure in your ears and face


Colds generally last for 5-7 days and are at their worst in the first 2-3 days of infection. Coughs can last for up to 3 weeks. In children under 5, colds usually last from 10-14 days.


There is no cure for the common cold. Because the cold is a virus, antibiotics will not help so do not take them. If you get a cold, your best hope is to help your body fight the virus by doing the following:

  1. Drink plenty of fluids
  2. Rest
  3. Eat well – a healthy diet rich in fibre and low in fat is recommended, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

However, there are plenty of over-the-counter treatments available to help ease the symptoms of a cold, such as:

  • Lozenges and throat sprays can help to soothe a sore throat.
  • Painkillers such as ibuprofen, paracetomol and aspirin can help to reduce fever and aches and pains. (Note: Aspirin should not be taken by children under 16 years old or women who are breastfeeding).
  • Decongestants can help to reduce the pain and discomfort of nasal congestion. (Note: Decongestants should not be taken for more that 7 days at a time as this can make the condition worse. They should not be taken by children under 6 years of age).
  • Vapour rubs can be rubbed onto the chest or back to help ease congestion, coughs and sore throats.
  • Echinacea, when taken at the first sign of a cold, can help to reduce the severity of the symptoms and the duration of illness.
  • Cough syrups can help to loosen up phlegm and clear the airways when you have a cough. They normally also contain a decongestant and help to prevent mucus running down the back of the throat.


When to seek medical attention:

You should go to your GP if your symptoms last longer than 3 weeks, or if you experience any of the following:

  • A high temperature of 39°C or above (this can be a sign of a more serious infection)
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Coughing up blood/blood-stained mucus
  • Chest pains
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe swelling of the glands/lymph nodes in your neck and/or armpits

How to prevent it:

Colds can be spread through direct contact, by inhaling tiny virus-infected droplets from a cough or sneeze, or indirectly through touching a contaminated surface (such as a door handle) and then touching your nose or mouth. Good hygiene is the easiest way to prevent colds spreading, including:

  • Washing your hands regularly with hot, soapy water, particularly after touching your nose or mouth and before handling any food.
  • Sneeze/cough into tissues to prevent the further spread of your germs through the air. Throw away any used tissues immediately and always wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Clean all surfaces regularly to lessen the risk of contamination.
  • Do not share cups, plates, cutlery or other kitchen utensils with others.

Should you stay home?

The general advice is to listen to your body – if you feel well enough to go to work or school with a cold, then do. If you are feeling very rough and have a high fever, you should probably stay home and rest until you feel a bit better. Although colds are generally not severe, they are highly contagious, particularly so during the first few days of infection. If you do feel well enough to attend work or school, you should practice good hygiene to prevent spreading your cold to others.

Wishing you a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year!


Express Chemist

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