Paracetamol the key to cold relief, say researchers

Caroline Cassidy

We Brits are just taking our first, slippery steps into winter and already the supermarket shelves are awash with cold remedies, cough medicines and extra strength treatments. But according to a new study, all you really need to stave off the sniffles is paracetamol.

Paracetamol best for cold relief
Paracetamol best for cold relief

Pic: Getty

Researchers at the University of Southampton found that paracetamol - which is a common ingredient in over the counter cold and flu remedies - is the best treatment for coughs, colds and sore throats, with the old-fashioned method of steam inhalation doing little to ease the suffering.

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Furthermore, paracetamol was found to get superior results to its more expensive counterpart, ibuprofen.

Of the 899 patients involved in the study, each of whom went to their GP with respiratory tract infection symptoms such as a sore throat, runny nose and cough, each received either paracetamol, ibuprofen or a combination of the two. Some were also advised to inhale steam at regular intervals.

According to the report, which was published in the British Medical Journal, the results showed that those patients who were prescribed anti-inflammatory ibuprofen, or the ibuprofen paracetamol combo, were between 50 per cent and 70 per cent more likely to return to their doctor with worsening or new symptoms.

Steam inhalation was found to have little or no effect, and even left one in 50 people with mild scalding on top of their cold symptoms.

Professor Paul Little, who led the study funded by the National Institute for Health Research, suggested that ibuprofen actually contributes to the progression of the illness rather than cure it, saying: "This may have something to do with the fact the ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory.
"It is possible that the drug is interfering with an important part of the immune response and leads to prolonged symptoms or the progression of symptoms in some individuals."

He added: "Although we have to be a bit cautious since these were surprise findings, for the moment I would personally not advise most patients to use ibuprofen for symptom control for coughs, colds and sore throat."

What remedies do you find work for colds and coughs? Leave your comments below...