Cold comfort of 'cures' that come with health warning

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Indy Lifestyle Online

All medicines carry risks, but for Charmian Nelson the risks seemed excessive. Afflicted by a tickly cough that had troubled her for some days, she went to her local chemist's shop in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire and asked the pharmacist what he wouldrecommend.

All medicines carry risks, but for Charmian Nelson the risks seemed excessive. Afflicted by a tickly cough that had troubled her for some days, she went to her local chemist's shop in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire and asked the pharmacist what he wouldrecommend.

She bought a "day cold comfort liquid" and, when she got home, read the information leaflet in the pack. What she found there alarmed her.

The warning on the label read: "This medicine may cause diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, constipation, headache, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, irritability, nightmares, loss of appetite,difficulty in passing urine, rapid heart rate, shaking or skin rashes, sputum retention and sweating. If concerned or if anything else unusual happens talk to your doctor or pharmacist."

Mrs Nelson considered the treatment was worse than the illness, and "decided to stick with the cough".

The Independent did a survey of cold cures available in a branch of Boots to compare their side-effects. The findings show the high risks patients can run to dry up a runny nose or check an irritating cough.

Possible side-effects include agitation (Day Nurse); blurred vision (Night Nurse); palpitations and asthma (Lemsip Max Strength); skin rashes (Benylin Day and Night); unusual bleeding or bruising (Lemsip Powercaps); and drowsiness (Benylin 4 Flu). In addition, certain patients are told to avoid the remedies altogether, including pregnant women, those with diabetes, thyroid disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney or liver disease.

The best treatment for a cold or flu is to drink plenty of fluids and to take paracetamol and aspirin alternately every three hours, according to a guide to treating colds and flu produced by the Doctor Patient Partnership.

"This will ease your sore throat and muscle aches without risking an overdose of either drug," it says .

It will also be cheaper. The six cold cures in The Independent's survey cost from £2.95 to £4.29 a packet and contained between 10 and 24 tablets. The main active ingredient in all of them was paracetamol (except for Lemsip Powercaps in which it is ibuprofen). A pack of 32 paracetamol tablets typically costs less than £1.

A spokeswoman for the Consumer Health Information Centre, an advice panel set up by the drug manufacturers, said: "These side-effects are very rare and they are listed to give consumers information so they can make a choice. The Medicines Control Agency stipulates that these products have to carry warnings. Anyone who is worried should discuss them with the pharmacist."

Dr Simon Fradd, chairman of the Doctor Patient Partnership said: "For most people colds and flu are self limitingillnesses which should be treated using medicines available from the pharmacist. GPs' time should be reserved for those people at the risk of developing complications such as very old people and those with chronic illnesses."

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