None of us can dodge colds and flu, and there are a wide range of potential treatments that we all turn to. But not all of them will help – and which remedy you should turn to will depend on whether you have a cold or the flu.
They share similar symptoms – but they are different beasts.
A cold will make you feel rotten. Flu is more severe and sends you to your bed.
It’s also likely to come with a fever and leave you feeling truly exhausted.
So here is what the evidence has shown helps… and what doesn’t.
Feed a cold/starve a fever?
Most of us will have heard this old adage. But experts at the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff say there isn’t good evidence behind it.
The saying may have come about because people with a fever often lose their appetite.
The advice is that you should try to eat some healthy food to keep your strength up, but don’t feel that you have to force it down if you’re not hungry.
Soldier on or go to bed?
Listen to your body. Don’t push yourself too hard and get some rest.
How much you need will depend on how you feel.
Certainly, a mild cold shouldn’t stop you getting out and about… or going to work!
Honey and lemon or a hot toddy?
Neither is proven to help, but honey and lemon might be a better option than the whisky, particularly if you plan to have more than one drink.
Doctors recommend plenty of fluids – by which they mean water – plus the odd cup of tea or coffee.
If you have a cold or the flu you will probably be sneezing, coughing and sweating out more fluid than you normally would, and so need to keep topped up.
But don’t overdo it. There is plenty of research to show that drinking too much water can be dangerous – and can even kill.
Paracetamol or ibuprofen?
Both work. You can even take paracetamol and ibuprofen together to ease your symptoms – it is safe to take both doses at the same time or spaced apart.
But do keep tabs on how much you’ve had so you don’t exceed the maximum recommended doses in any 24-hour period.
Ibuprofen is best taken with food or on a full stomach.
Eucalyptus or menthol oil?
There’s no good evidence that they work, but they could offer some temporary relief. Rubbing some on your chest or putting a few drops in a steamy bowl of water can help unblock your nose.
Vitamin C and zinc?
Vitamin C has been proposed as a treatment for respiratory infections since the 1930s. It became particularly popular in the 1970s when a Nobel laureate – Linus Pauling – suggested that studies comparing it with a placebo (dummy) treatment showed vitamin C would prevent and alleviate colds.
But a recent analysis by the Cochrane Group, which assesses medical evidence for and against different treatments and therapies, found dosing up doesn’t appear to help that much, if at all.
Vitamin C is pretty harmless – we pee out any excess amounts that the body can’t use.
But Zinc can be dangerous if you take too much, so the advice is to take care with the quantity you take.
There has been a huge public information campaign to raise awareness of when antibiotics are – and are not – necessary. Antibiotics are no use in treating colds and flu because they are caused by viruses – and antibiotics do not treat viruses.
The only time you need to see your GP is if a bacterial infection develops.
NHS Choices has more information on cold and flu care.