Silverbirch Medical Practice, Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland

Advice for common winter ailments

Often people think “I need a wee course of antibiotics” but did you know…

  • Most common infections of the nose, throat, sinuses, ears and chest are caused by viruses.  Antibiotics do not kill viruses- they only kill bacteria
  • Antibiotics have side effects which may include: stomach upsets, diarrhoea, rashes and thrush
  • The more antibiotics you take, the less effective they become at fighting more serious infections, as your body’s bacteria build up a resistance against them

Where can I get advice?

  • Ask your pharmacist (chemist) for advice.  For specific symptoms such as sore throats, runny/stuffed nose, coughs.
  • If your symptoms change or you are worried about any new symptom, speak to your pharmacist or GP.

Self Help Information Sheets

Common Viral Conditions - How Long They Last For (On Average)

  • Sore Ear (Acute Otitis Media) - 4 days
  • Acute Sore Throat - 7 to 10 days
  • Common Cold - 1 1/2 weeks
  • Sinusitis - 2 1/2 weeks
  • Acute Cough (Bronchitis) - 3 weeks


Parts of this explanation are taken from ‘Why aren’t there any cough medicines that actually work’, an excellent blog post by Dr Roy Benaroch.

Cough is a very common complaint.   Coughs are commonly caused by viral upper respiratory tract infections – the common cold.

When you have a viral upper respiratory tract infection you cough because the virus causes excess mucous to be produced throughout your ‘respiratory tree’ – from your nose and ears, down your throat, and down the airways deep into your lungs.

If the mucous were just allowed to sit there it would attract bacteria which would then multiply causing a bacterial infection.  Fortunately, coughing is our built-in, excellent way to get rid of that sticky mucous before it gets loaded with bacteria.

You will not always cough up the mucous - a lot of it will be moved up the airway by coughing and tipped over into the oesophagus to be swallowed.  Swallowing this mucous is harmless as respiratory bacteria cannot survive in your stomach.

Coughing also agitates the mucous, preventing bacteria from developing their defensive biofilm and developing a colony and forming pus.

Coughing is good and it’s there for a reason.  There is no ‘medical’ way to get rid of all that mucous.  No medicine or suction or procedure we’ve ever come up with is nearly as effective as good old-fashioned God-given cough.

There are many medicines you can buy for cough.  They may ease the discomfort of coughing but they will not take away your cough and this is lucky, because if they did you would fill up with infected mucous and become very unwell.

How long should an ordinary cough last?  Longer than many people think.  Only 50% of coughs with a common cold improve by day 10.  An average cough lasts 3 weeks and some may last longer.

So what can I do for my cough?

  1.  Soothe your airway with extra liquids – either cold or warm – whatever gives you ease.  This could be cold drinks, ice lollies, warm tea or warm soup.
  2. Suck menthol lozenges such as Halls, Soothers or Fisherman’s Friend
  3. Use vapour rubs like Vicks but beware this can cause skin irritation and needs to be used with caution in children
  4. Honey – a teaspoon of honey at night can help soothe a cough and during the day you can make up drinks with honey and lemon and hot water
  5. Paracetamol for pain or discomfort
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