How to take care of yourself if you have a winter cough and cold | 8 January 2017

January 8, 2017

A Daily Mail news report correctly points out there are an awful lot of people suffering from a nasty viral infection at the moment that can cause a prolonged period of coughing and leave even perfectly healthy people with a persisting hacking cough and feeling well under the weather for several weeks.

Having caught this wretched bug over Christmas, I know from personal experience just how unpleasant and persistent it can be.

And I know that there are quite a lot of people with ME/CFS suffering from this infection was well at the moment.

So I thought it would be useful to repeat a Question and Answer from our ME Essential membership magazine on winter coughs and colds – see below.

As the Daily Mail report correctly states, there isn't a great deal that doctors can do. This is a viral infection, so antibiotics aren't the answer.

But do check with your GP if you are running a high temperature, having any sort of breathing difficulties, coughing up blood or large amounts of green/yellow sputum – in which case there may be a secondary bacterial infection present that does require antibiotic treatment.

And it's worth noting that simple home remedies – eg mixing glycerine, honey and lemon in hot water – and soothing pastilles are often more effective than expensive over-the-counter cough mixtures.

Dr Charles Shepherd
Hon Medical Adviser, ME Assciation


This is my first winter of suffering with ME/CFS. I was diagnosed in September 2015. Three weeks ago I picked up an horrific head cold and chesty cough, as well as a blocked ear, and I still feel awful. I’ve been resting as much as I can but I have a home and family to look after!

Is it normal for the effects of coughs and colds to last much longer than usual in people with ME/CFS? And what can I do to get back to normal?


Plenty of people with ME/CFS will sympathise with what you are going through at the moment. This is because it’s not uncommon for people with ME/CFS to feel worse during the winter months, especially when they pick a viral cold or chest infection that grumbles on and takes weeks to go away.

From what you say about the stresses at home, it sounds as though you aren't getting enough rest, which is a very important aid to any natural recovery process taking place. So do try to slow things down a bit and get some proper rest

It's also worth talking to your pharmacist about some of the simple remedies that should help to relieve cough and cold symptoms:

* Short-term use of a decongestant (such as Sudafed) tablet or nose spray/drops to relieve the head congestion. Please note that long-term use of decongestants can make the problem worse – so they should normally only be used for a few days.

* Steam inhalations are a cheap, simple and effective way to relieve head, nasal and sinus congestion. Heat some water in a large container and add a few drops of Orbus oil. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the steam through the mouth in three slow steps – then exhale. Close the mouth and take a long slow inhalation into each nostril – one at a time – if you have a blocked nose or ear.

* A Vick nasal stick inhaler – containing menthol, camphor, pine needle oil – which you can carry around, can also be helpful for relieving a stuffy or blocked up nose.

* Use a cough suppressant such as pholcodeine linctus if the cough is no longer phlegm producing – especially if it's keeping you awake at night. If you are coughing up yellow or green phlegm, see your doctor because you may have a bacterial infection that requires antibiotic treatment.

* Home made drinks containing a small amount of glycerine, honey, lemon and warm water.

* Blackcurrent and glycerine pastilles – also keep the throat moist (Boots do a good one!)

* Blow your nose regularly!

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