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I’m a pharmacist – here’s the cold and flu remedies that are a total waste of money – and ones that actually work

IT’s that time of year again – when people spend a lot of their time coughing, sneezing and feeling generally unwell.

In these desperate months we turn to our pharmacies to help get us through, in the hope of a magical potion which will cure us.

The experts stressed that prevention is always better than cure

But as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, what medicines are really worth the buck and which should you leave on the shelf?

Mike Hewitson, a pharmacist from Somerset, suggests the best thing someone can buy when they have a cold or the flu is standard paracetamol.

“I generally advise people to use unbranded medicines which are often as effective as the branded products, but at a fraction of the price,” he explained

Paracetamol can help to “control the fever” which often accompanies the flu, Mike said.

Sadik Al-Hassan, a pharmacist based in Bath, said medicines such as Lemsip Max, which contain a combination of drugs, can also be helpful at reducing symptoms.

“The paracetamol can help reduce pain, the decongestant to clear out the sinuses and vitamin C to help you fight infections faster,” he explained.

Both pharmacists warned patients against Echinacea – a herbal supplement which some take to boost immunity.

“While it probably isn’t going to do much harm to take it for most people, there isn’t much evidence to suggest it actually helps,” Mike said.

Prevention better than cure

The experts stressed that prevention is better than cure and there are many effective ways at reducing your chances of getting ill in the first place.

Sadik said: “There are a lot of cold and flu prevention nasal sprays on the market which create a gel barrier which words as a physical barrier.”

Meanwhile, Mike pointed out that it isn’t too late to get a flu jab.

“Many pharmacies will also be able to provide you with a private flu vaccination service if you don’t qualify for the free NHS jab,” he said.

How to spot the difference between flu and a common cold

Flu can be a lot more serious than the common cold, so it’s important to know the difference between the two:


If you’re suffering from a cold, it’s likely you will pick up ear infections and infections of the sinuses.

The NHS says in general though, you may experience:

  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • body aches
  • cough
  • headache


The symptoms of flu are very similar to those of a very bad cold.

The NHS says this includes a suffer high temperature of 38C or more.

A high temperature had previously been a symptom of Covid, but the experts said that this is less likely with the Omicron strain.

You will also experience body aches and a dry cough.

You may also have difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and feeling or being sick.

You are less likely to experience these with a cold or the Omicron strain.

So when it comes to spotting the difference between flu and Covid, it should be straight forward.

Experts at the CDC said: “People with flu virus infection are potentially contagious for about one day before they show symptoms. However, it is believed that flu is spread mainly by people who are symptomatic with flu virus infection.

“Older children and adults with flu appear to be most contagious during the first 3-4 days of their illness, but some people might remain contagious for slightly longer periods.

“Infants and people with weakened immune systems can be contagious for even longer.”

But there is a finer line between a cold and Omicron, so you should look out for any secondary infections such as ear infections.

It’s also important to note that you could have coronavirus, but have an asymptomatic infection – meaning you might not know you have the bug.

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