top of page

Advice for Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI) 

The main treatment for upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) is to ease symptoms whilst your immune system clears the viral infection. One or more of the following may be helpful: 

Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen 

Paracetamol and ibuprofen will reduce a high temperature (fever) and to ease any aches, pains and headaches. Follow the instructions given with the medicine carefully and do not take more than the advised dose. Only give these medicines to children under the age of 5 years if they have a fever or appear distressed.

Having plenty to drink

If you have a fever, to prevent mild lack of fluid in the body (dehydration). As long as you do

not have a fever, there is no evidence that drinking more fluids than usual makes a difference.


If you smoke, you should try to stop for good. URTIs and serious lung diseases tend to last

longer in smokers. 

Steam inhalation 

There is not very much evidence that this helps; however, some people find it useful. It is very important to be careful to avoid burns and scalds, particularly with children. A safe way of inhaling steam is to sit in the bathroom with the door closed, while running a hot shower to make the room steamy. 

Vapour rubs

Vapour rubs can be bought in pharmacies and supermarkets. Some people find they help with a stuffy nose. Rub the vapour on to the chest/or back of the person with the cold but avoid the area under the nose. 

Sore throat lozenges 

Sucking sore throat lozenges (available from pharmacies and supermarkets) or boiled sweets may help ease a sore throat. 

Warm drinks with honey and lemon 

This may help to ease a sore throat. (Do not give honey to babies less than 1 year old as it

is not known if this is safe.) Similarly, gargling salt water may temporarily ease symptoms

of a sore throat. 

Salt (saline) nose drops

These are nose drops made of a salty solution, which may help clear a blocked nose. They are sometimes helpful for babies who are having difficulty breathing through a blocked nose as they feed. They can be bought from a pharmacy. 

What about cold and flu remedies? 

You can buy many other cold and cough remedies at pharmacies. These are suitable for adults and older children only. These remedies do not help fight the infection, but they may be useful for certain symptoms. For example, a decongestant nasal spray may help to clear a blocked nose. 

Remember that cold and cough remedies often contain several ingredietns. Be careful about taking more than one remedy in case you get too much of one ingredient. For example, some cold remedies contain paracetamol and decongestant. So if you took that and paracetamol as well, you would be taking too much paracetamol, which could be dangerous. 

Some cold and cough remedies may make you drowsy. This may be welcome at bedtime if you have difficulty sleeping because of your cold. However, do not drive if you are drowsy. 

Using nasal sprays 

If you use a spray to ease nasal congestion, do not use it for more than a few days. It can have an immediate effect to clear a blocked nose. However, the effect does not last very long. If you use a decongestant nasal spray for more than 5-7 days, you may feel that your nose is becoming more blocked. This is called a rebound effect. 

What about antibiotic medications? 

Antibiotics are not usually advised if you are normally in good health. Your immune system can usually clear the infection. Antibiotics do not kill germs which are viruses. Even if a different type of germ (called bacterium) is the cause, antibiotics usually do little to speed up recovery from the common cold. 

Antibiotics may even make cold symptoms worse, as some people develop side effects such as diarrhoea, feeling sick or a rash. Antibiotics may be prescribed if you become more unwell, or if you already have an underlying (chronic) lung disease. They may also be prescribed if a complication develops, such as pneumonia - but this is unlikely to occur if you are otherwise healthy. 

warm drink.jpg

Free Health Advice can also be from your pharmacist, Healthline 0800 611 116 or
alternatively contact Practice Plus 0800 772 2758 for a virtual appointment. 

bottom of page