How can I treat my cold or flu? Questions to ask your health professional

NPS has developed some quick questions for people suffering from a cold or flu to help them seek advice from their health professional on how to treat their symptoms.

NPS clinical adviser Dr Philippa Binns says that with colds and flu abundant at this time of year, and with reported flu spikes in some parts of the country, it’s important people equip themselves with the information they need to manage the symptoms of their illness and help themselves feel better.

“A cold or flu can make us feel really sick so it’s no wonder that when we are suffering from one of these illnesses we want to do everything we can to make ourselves feel a little better,” says Dr Binns.

“Luckily there are a number of things you can do to treat the symptoms of your cold, such as using lozenges to soothe a sore throat, or inhaling steam from a hot shower to relieve congestion. However resting and being realistic about how quickly you will recover are also important.

“These questions may help you get the information you need from your doctor, pharmacist or other health professional to treat your symptoms effectively and send you on a path to recovery.”

Dr Binns says despite the fact that colds and flu are viral infections and do not respond to antibiotics, many people still expect to be prescribed them when they have one of these illnesses.

“It would be nice if there was a magic pill that would make our illness disappear but unfortunately if you have a virus, then antibiotics are not the answer. They won’t help you get better faster and won’t prevent you from passing your illness onto others.”

Practicing good hygiene is an important step to help stop the spread and prevent you from catching colds and flu in the first place.

“Taking simple, practical steps to stop infections from spreading is also important. This means staying home from work when you’re unwell, and practicing good hygiene by covering your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throwing the tissue away in a rubbish bin, then washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water,” she says.

“Having the flu vaccine also protects you, it protects at-risk people you may be in contact with, and it can reduce the chance of needing to use antibiotics to treat flu-related complications.”

The World Health Organization has named antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats to human health today. NPS is running a campaign across Australia to raise awareness of the issue of antibiotic resistance and encourage all Australians to join the fight against antibiotic resistance.

“Every time antibiotics are used unnecessarily, this contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance which is when bacteria are able to withstand antibiotic treatment. Ultimately this causes an increase in infections which are very difficult to treat,” says Dr Binns.

“We all have our part to play in fighting antibiotic resistance, so if you do have a cold or flu seek advice from your health professional on how to treat the symptoms — but don’t expect antibiotics – and talk to them about whether a flu vaccine to prevent getting sick in the first place may be appropriate for you.”

Top 5 questions to ask about your cough, cold or flu

  1. How long will I take to get better, and when can I return to work/school?
  2. How can I prevent my problem from spreading to others?
  3. How can I relieve my symptoms?
  4. Could any over-the-counter medicines help my condition?
  5. When should I seek further help from a health professional?

For more information about managing the symptoms of a cold or flu, visit and ccc

To join the fight against antibiotic resistance, visit the NPS Facebook page at


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.