It’s that time of year – everyone seems to be sneezing, sniffing or coughing. It’s all terribly unpleasant, and can last for weeks sometimes. Then when you think it’s all over you seem to get the whole thing back again. At some point many people end up at the doctor’s office hoping for a miracle cure.

Sadly, most of the time there is no instant cure for these annoying symptoms. Most coughs and sore throats are caused by viruses, so antibiotics simply don’t work. Believe me, if we had an instant cure for these viruses we would offer it!


There are less common situations where antibiotics might be prescribed, but it’s not about how long you’ve had your symptoms. Antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses, so they will be useful if you have a serious lung infection such as pneumonia, bad tonsillitis with giant pus-covered tonsils blocking your throat, a sinus infection with pain in your face, or an ear infection. But most people with a cold or cough don’t have these conditions.

If you’re coughing up horrible yellow or green stuff and it’s keeping you awake all night, the bad news is that those are the expected symptoms of a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, and you can expect it to last a week or two, sometimes longer. Your best bet is to dose up on vitamin C, use over-the-counter symptom relievers such as cold and flu tablets, decongestant nasal sprays and cough elixirs, and spend your evenings at home with a rug on your knees and a hot lemon drink in your hand, catching up on all those novels you’ve been meaning to read.

By the way, don’t confuse these common viruses with influenza – another virus that causes severe body ache, fever, headache, cough and sneezing and the sufferer usually can barely leave their bed – this is much more serious, and can put you off work for 2 weeks. You should get medical advice if you think you have it.
Finally, if you haven’t already had it, go and get a flu vaccination. It won’t stop you catching common colds and coughs, but it will protect you against the dreaded influenza.

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