Over-the-counter meds and vitamins are expensive and the range is mind-boggling. We asked a GP for some common sense advice.
Each year everyone does their best to prepare themselves and their families to do battle against the flu by stocking
up on products that promise to boost the immune system and stop colds and flu in their tracks. We grab all sorts of
concoctions off the shelves, hoping those sniffles and that tickly throat will just disappear. Unfortunately, you may be wasting money and potentially making yourself feel even worse by using the wrong medications. Dr Carolin Tuffnell, a Joburg-based GP, offers advice on how to effectively treat, or hopefully prevent, colds and flu.
According to Carolin, there aren’t any hidden or magical ways to avoid flu, just these helpful tips:
- Get a flu vaccine annually.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Keep windows open slightly for fresh air, even during winter.
- Try to eat healthily.
- Get enough sleep.
The mistakes of self-medication
Carolin says it isn’t always easy to tell the difference between viral and bacterial infections, which leads people to self-medicate incorrectly. People also tend to confuse full-blown flu with minor viral infections such as the ‘common cold’, which require different treatments for different time periods. This confusion results in unnecessary spending on over-the-counter medications that often make little to no difference in the course of the illness. Self-medicating can result in possible harmful side effects when mixed with other medication. Carolin warns, ‘If you’re taking warfarin, a medication intended to prevent blood clots, or any chronic medication, check with the pharmacist before taking over-the-counter meds, especially anti-inflammatories. A good principle is to generally avoid all medication unless you’re familiar
with it and you absolutely need to use it.’
While over-the-counter meds can be used to manage a fever, congestion, and pain associated with colds and flu, Carolin says high-risk patients with actual influenza should seek medical care in case of secondary bacterial infections. Patients who are immunocompromised, diabetic, smokers, the elderly and the very young should be considered as high risk, and have vaccinations in flu season to stand the best chance of avoiding illness.
Don’t believe the hype
‘Vitamin C doesn’t prevent viral infection, despite being a multimillion dollar industry. Zinc has been shown to possibly help prevent infections developing, but it’s debatable. Many products claim to reduce your chances of catching
viral respiratory infections, but most are unproven. If they are unscheduled their claims don’t need to be evaluated and approved by the Medicine Council of SA,’ Carolin says.
‘Old wives’ tales’ that actually work:
Studies have shown that traditional homemade chicken soup can reduce the severity of cold and flu symptoms, while
honey can be useful due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Tips for beating colds and flu
If you feel the beginnings of a cold or flu, the best thing to do is start taking it easy and stop exercising until you feel better, Carolin advises. ‘You can’t speed up recovery unfortunately, so you’ll have to accept that a cold will last approximately three to five days and influenza about seven to ten days. Anything lasting longer should be seen by
a doctor, as a secondary bacterial infection such as bronchitis or sinusitis may have developed as the viral
The advice contained here is strictly for informational purposes. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Always consult your GP or a doctor for specific information regarding your health.
FEATURE: CAITLIN GENG PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM