Lorraine: Dr Hilary busts cold and flu myths

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Health chiefs warned yesterday that pharmacies are struggling to obtain basic supplies like cold and flu medicine amid nationwide shortages. Self-care products including throat lozenges and painkillers are running low amid huge demand for over-the-counter medicines. Fortunately, some treatments may offer short-term relief from cold and flu symptoms while stocks are replenished.

According to the Daily Chemist, menthol crystals are a simple and effective drug-free way to relieve congestion.

“The concentrated menthol vapour can be inhaled through the nose and works quickly to deliver cool and clear breathing,” explains the health body.

The crystals are designed to be added to hot water in order to create steam inhalation for treating pain and cough.

Once dissolved, Sacriston Surgery UK advises putting a towel over the head and bowel and inhaling for ten minutes.

Repeating the process approximately four times a day could offer some relief for symptoms like a blocked nose.

During inhalation, the crystals activate receptors in the skin and mucous membranes, which facilitates breathing.

The product is available for purchase in some high street pharmacies and other online retailers.

My Pharmacy advises anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding, however, to speak to a pharmacist or doctor before using these medicines.

“If you think you may be allergic to any of the ingredients contained in this medicine, please seek medical advice before taking,” says the health body.

Why is there a shortage of cold and flu medicine?

The sharp rise in demand for self-care products has been driven by abnormally high rates of cold and flu across the country, according to experts.

Chief Pharmacist and Director of Pharmacy at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) Leyla Hannbeck explained: “People are obviously trying very hard to look after themselves and making sure they use the relevant products to manage the symptoms.”

The shortage includes not only branded medications but also simple drugs like throat lozenges, cough mixtures and painkillers, particularly ones that are soluble.

Abbas Kanani, from MRPharmS, noted that the shortage in pharmacies has led people to look online as an alternative option to buying from stores.

The expert said: “With stocks running low, people may be at risk of wasting money by choosing a medicine which is not necessarily the best treatment for their specific symptoms.

“Different symptoms require different treatments, for example, mucus coughs are best treated with an expectorant, whilst a dry, tickly cough requires a cough suppressant.

“We have been impacted by supply issues and increased costs of medicines as an online pharmacy and the industry as a whole is under immense pressure right now, mainly down to the current NHS crisis and rising inflation.”

High street chain Superdrug has also reported exceptionally high demand for cold and cough medicines.

According to Chief Pharmacist Ms Hannbeck, these current shortages could lead to more pressure on the NHS.

It comes after the UK Health Security Agency warned that winter illnesses, including flu and COVID-19, are currently circulating at high levels.

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