Cold and Flu Symptoms

The cold and flu section of a pharmacy can be very overwhelming! There are hundreds of products with different ingredients that treat a variety of symptoms, and you’re normally not feeling your best when you need to make a product choice from the overwhelming amount of options. Your local pharmacy staff can help decipher your needs and help you make appropriate selections so that you leave the pharmacy with the right solution to help you feel better as soon as possible.

Sore throat

A sore throat is often associated with winter colds and the flu and is characterised by inflammation. Some of the signs of inflammation include pain, heat, swelling, redness, and difficulty swallowing.

85-95% of sore throats in adults are caused by viruses. However; they may also be caused by:

Bacterial infections | reflux | post nasal drip | persistent coughing | allergies | foreign bodies | smoking.

Effective treatment works to reduce inflammation, relieve pain and combat bacteria.

Dry coughs

A dry cough can be the result of infection by cold and flu viruses. It can also be triggered by atmospheric pollutants (such as cigarette smoke) irritating your throat.

In most of these situations, dry coughs occur because the back of your throat becomes irritated or inflamed, but may also arise from deeper in the chest.

Dry cough relief

As dry coughs are unproductive, the main focus is relief and/or suppression.

For relief, a liquid product that is thick enough to coat and soothe the throat, or a lozenge that dissolves slowly at the back of the throat can be effective.

For suppression, active ingredients known as antitussives, such as Pholcodine help stop the urge to cough.

You have an underlying condition or your symptoms are severe, you should speak to the pharmacist for advice.

Some ‘dry cough’ products will also contain other active ingredients such as

  • A nasal decongestant to help clear a blocked or runny nose (e.g. Phenylephrine hydrochloride).
  • An anti-bacterial agent to help a sore throat associated with a dry cough (e.g. Cetylpyridinium chloride).

Chesty cough

Doctors classify chesty coughs as ‘productive coughs’, as the act of coughing produces (or brings up) mucus from the chest.

A chesty cough is most often the result of infection by cold and flu viruses and bacteria.

To relieve a chesty cough, the main focus is to break down and loosen congestion in the lungs, making it easier to cough up excess mucus.

A mucolytic will help break down and liquify the mucus so it is easier to expel. An example of a mucolytic is bromhexine hydrochloride.

Some cough products will combine two active ingredients to help relieve heavy chesty coughs. The addition of an expectorant (such as Guaiphenesin) can help loosen congestion in the lungs, making it easier to cough up.

Some products will also contain other active ingredients such as

  • A nasal decongestant to help clear a blocked or runny nose: e.g. Phenylephrine hydrochloride.
  • An antibacterial agent to help a sore throat: e.g. Cetylpyridinium chloride.

Runny or blocked nose

Colds can be caused by a viral infection. This viral infection can cause nasal congestion, which in turn can lead to sinus congestion. Also, as part of the immune system response, mucus production increases. Now, not only are nasal passages blocked, but also mucus build-up is more rapid, giving you a ‘snotty/runny nose’.

Decongestant tablets/nasal spray

These medicines work by shrinking swollen tissues and allowing mucus to drain. Decongestants include phenylephrine, which is taken orally as a tablet, or oxymetazoline, which is available as a nasal spray.

Saline nasal spray

Helps reduce nasal congestion by flushing the nose and thinning mucus. Cleansing the nasal tissue helps to remove inflammatory cells and their by-products to improve overall nasal tissue function.

Muscle aches and pains


Cold and flu infections can cause muscle aches and inactivity arising from having a cold or flu can also cause muscle stiffness. Magnesium helps to support healthy contraction and relaxation of muscles, which can help combat this symptom.


Help to reduce pain and inflammation associated with muscle pain, tension headaches, fever and sore throats.

Paracetamol tablets

  • Help to reduce pain associated with headaches, sore throat or fever and can help with relief of these symptoms.
  • Do not use for children under 12yo – liquid preparations can be recommended.

Combination products

Combination products can be helpful as they can treat multiple symptoms at once.