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Common Cold and Cough

Common cold and flu are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. They have similar symptoms, therefore, it can be difficult to differentiate them based on symptoms alone.

Symptoms of flu are worse than cold and include cough, sore throat, runny or blocked nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.

There are medicines available in the pharmacy to relieve the symptoms of cold and flu.

Runny Nose and Sneezing

There are antihistamines available to dry up the nose and prevent post nasal drip that may lead to a cough and reduce sneezing.

Blocked Nose

To relieve the symptom, decongestants are available in oral or nasal spray form. Oral decongestants are usually found in combination with antihistamine or fever/ pain relief medicines. Other natural remedies include:
  • Some blended plant extracts containing herbs
  • Rubs / inhalants that contain menthol, camphor and eucalyptus oil which provide a soothing, refreshing sensation upon application.
  • Sinus rinse is a saline solution which helps to ‘wash’ out the mucus, allergen, germs or any irritant in the nose.
Nasal strips help to open up the nasal passage to breathe better.

Fever and Pain

Simple pain relievers e.g. paracetamol, ibuprofen can relieve headache, sore throat, body aches and fever. Sucking on medicated lozenges may relieve a sore throat and coughing.


Cough is common in any respiratory tract infection. Even after the infection has cleared, the cough may persist for several weeks and exist as a dry cough that produces no phlegm.

Important signs and symptoms of cough to watch out for:

  • Persistent cough
  • Coughing up thick greenish or yellowish phlegm
  • Wheezing or difficulty in breathing in and out
  • Running a fever higher than 38°C
  • Coughing up blood

Many cough preparations mix an expectorant or suppressant with medicines for other symptoms of cold and flu. That could include an antihistamine, a decongestant, and a pain reliever.

The combination is beneficial if you experience a range of symptoms, like body aches, cough, and nasal congestion. Conversely, you may be consuming medicines you do not need.

Antihistamines can relieve a cough caused by post nasal drip. They are sometimes combined with an expectorant for cough with phlegm.

Cough expectorants loosen the phlegm and allow you to cough out easily. In other cases, mucolytics can dissolve thick phlegm that can be removed easily by coughing or swallowing.

Cough suppressants can temporarily suppress cough to stop the urge or relieve a dry cough.

Some herb-based preparations contain ingredients such as dried ivy leaf extract that have both mucolytic and cough suppressant effects.

Prevention (Lifestyle Management)

  • Maintain good personal hygiene to stop the spread of infection:
    • Wash your hands with soap or use a hand sanitizer regularly
    • Cover your nose and mouth with a paper napkin when blowing nose, coughing and sneezing
    • Use a face mask when coughing and sneezing
  • Keep a healthy lifestyle with adequate rest, plenty of fluid and a good nutrition
  • Avoid smoking or inhaling cigarette smoke
  • Recommended to have influenza vaccination, especially if you live with or take care of:
    • The elderly (aged 65 years old and above)
    • People with low immunity (e.g. undergoing cancer treatment)
    • Children aged 5 years and below

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