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Coughing up for a remedy

Paracetamol and a hot drink with honey and lemon will relieve cold symptoms just as well as the most expensive over-the-counter branded remedies, according to research by the Consumers' Association magazine Which?

Treating aches and pains with the maximum dose of a "combination" formula such as Day Nurse Liquid Cold and Flu Remedy costs pounds 1.93 a day. Paracetamol and a hot drink will knock you back 35p and give the same effect.

Adults suffer on average four colds a year and children twice as many. To counter them we spend pounds 300m a year on the 200-plus remedies available.

Which? tried a range of remedies costing up to pounds 4.75 and concluded that popular "combination" remedies (which contain painkiller, decongestant and cough soother), will often do little good unless you have the full range of symptoms - otherwise you are only swallowing unnecessary drugs.

The most expensive combination remedies are Day Nurse Liquid Cold and Flu Remedy at pounds 1.93 per day and Flurex Cold/Flu Capsules with Cough Suppressant at pounds 1.94. But Lemsip (95p per day), and Boots Hot Lemon Cold Relief with Decongestant (94p) also cost far more than paracetamol.

Cold sufferers should treat symptoms singly, taking paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen for aches and pains, treating bad congestion with a spray and, if really necessary, a dry cough with a suppressant. But the magazine warns victims "there is no convincing proof" that cough expectorants such as Robitussin for Chesty Coughs (pounds 1.12 per day), and Vicks Original Cough Syrup (chesty) (pounds 1.59) work: warm water is probably just as effective.

Only sore throat lozenges containing doses of anaesthetic, such as Merocaine, may soothe soreness; others, containing anti-bacterial ingredients, are not likely to help any more than any other sweet.

"The simple fact is you're probably better off with plenty of rest and lots of fluids," said Diane McCrea, Which? head of food and health. "Sadly, the world still awaits a cure for the common cold."