Q&A on colds and flu with Dr Chris Steele

Dr Chris Steele returned to Mumsnet during the cold snap in February 2012 to answer questions about colds and flu. He advised on which remedies are safe to take when pregnant and breastfeeding, as well as offering advice on allergies and colds.

And he confirmed what generations of mothers have always known - that home-made chicken soup has positively medicinal properties.

Dr Steele qualified as a doctor in 1968 and has worked as a GP in South Manchester since 1970. He has been the resident doctor on ITVs This Morning for the last 23 years. 

Preventing coldsColds while pregnant or breastfeeding | Allergies | Other


Preventing colds

SneezeQ. Nailak:  If I go out with wet hair will I get a cold? If I have bath and go out will I get a cold? Do you burn the cold and starve the flu or whatever?  If kids have sniffles and play outside will they get sicker or take longer to recover? Should I be dressing kids like they going to arctic if they have a cold?

A. Dr Chris Steele: Wow, you've got lots of questions for me. Wet hair will not cause you to get a cold, nor will having a bath and going out in the cold. Feeding a fever or starving a cold is purely an old wives tales, but then again some of these 'old fashioned remedies' do work.

One that has impressed me is the use of home-made chicken soup for the common cold. It is a very popular remedy, which actually has some science to support it, which really is remarkable.

I would recommend you let the children play outside. The more infections your children are exposed to as kids the better, as this helps their immune systems to develop and produce natural resistance to the bugs and infections out there.

Finally, in response to dressing for cold weather, according to the latest research it's important to keep your nose and airways warm - hence wearing a warm scarf around the face, which can reduce the likelihood of catching colds and flu. Cold air narrows the blood vessels in the nose and airways and therefore reduces the delivery of the blood's white cells that attack and neutralise attacking bacteria and viruses. So always keep a warm scarf around your nose and mouth during cold weather. 

"According to the latest research it's important to keep your nose and airways warm - hence wearing a warm scarf around the face which can reduce the likelihood of catching colds and flu."

Q. InmaculadaConcepcion: What's the current thinking on the efficacy of Echinacea when it comes to either preventing colds or helping the body to overcome them more quickly?

A. Dr Chris Steele: There is research showing that Echinacea does reduce the duration and severity of the symptoms of the common cold and influenza - as do other herbal remedies, such as Pelargonium. The difference between the two is that Pelargonium is suitable for adults and children (aged 6+) with asthma and other vulnerable groups, whereas Echinacea is not recommended if you have asthma. 

Q. EdwardorEricCantDecide: My son has had back-to-back colds all winter. What can I do to stop this? He's nearly three years old.

A. Dr Chris Steele: As your son is only three, you shouldn't worry about him getting 'back-to-back colds'. His body is coming into contact with these viruses for the first time, and even though he's suffering 'cold' symptoms, his body will be producing antibodies to these common infections which will stand him in good stead in later years.

You may notice that once he starts school he will also get all sorts of colds and flu, but that is OK. He needs to be exposed to these viruses now to strengthen his immune system. 

Q. Heyyyho: Why does my daughter, who's five, get so many colds? She only has to go outside in weather like this and bang. She eats beautifully - lots of fresh vegetables and fruit and gets lots of rest. They really knock her for six and she just doesn't shake them off like most. What can we actually do to help this? My husband is the same - is it hereditary?

"Recurring colds in childhood is not a hereditary problem - it's just part of growing up."

A. Dr Chris Steele: This is not a hereditary problem - it's just part of growing up. Meeting these common viruses for the first time is vital for a young child's immune system, in order to produce antibodies against all of these viruses. 

Q. MynameIsInigoMontoya: If you have a tendency to get secondary infections (bronchitis/pneumonia), is there anything you can do to reduce the chances of getting them once you have caught a cold? I seem to have a weakness for these and have had one or the other so many times, I'd love to know if I can reduce the odds of one next time?

A. Dr Chris Steele: It's very difficult to prevent secondary infections. Obviously, a full course of antibiotics from your GP must be completely finished. Many patients stop taking their antibiotics once they feel better, after a couple of days - don't do this. Take the whole five to seven-day course your GP has prescribed. 

Again, you could try using a herbal remedy. Pelargonium has had plenty of research which has shown it can help to reduce the longevity of upper respiratory tract infections, such as bronchitis and the common cold, whilst reducing the severity of symptoms, including coughing and production of mucus. 

Q. Zipcap: At what point should you go to the doctor if you have a nasty cough?

A. Dr Chris Steele: Only go to your doctor if your symptoms have persisted beyond one week. Meanwhile, you can try an OTC (over the counter) product or herbal medicine you can buy from your local pharmacy or health food store. If you're coughing up green, yellow or blood-stained sputum see your GP straight away, especially if you're a smoker. 

Q. Nethunsreject: I'd like to know if it shortens the duration of the common cold if you give in and rest, or if it makes no odds. Also, why do some healthy people get so many colds while others seem to get very few? Finally, why does the cold make you so knackered?

"If you or any of your family is suffering from a cough that is persistent and troublesome at night, in particular, you must ask your doctor to check you for asthma. "

A. Dr Chris Steele: With any illness, even the common cold (which medically is a minor complaint), it's always important to rest. This allows your body to recover as quickly as possible. With influenza, which makes you feel far more ill than the common cold, it's vital to get to bed, rest and take plenty of fluids. 

Why some people get more colds or infections  than others is probably down to their lifestyle - smoking, diet, weight, exercise etc can all contribute. A common cold shouldn't leave you feeling 'knackered' as it usually clears within five to seven days. If you've been feeling knackered after what you thought was a 'common cold', it probably means you've had something more demanding on your body, such as flu.

If you want know the means of telling whether you've got a cold or the flu, try what I call The Tenner Test. Imagine looking out on to your garden. If you can see a £10 note on the lawn and you can go out and get it, then you don't have flu. With 'flu' you feel too ill and too weak to move, but if you've just got the 'common cold' you'll be up there to pick up that tenner. 

About this webchat

This webchat was sponsored by NEW Kaloba® Syrup (Pelargonium sidoides EPs®7630), a licensed herbal medicine scientifically proven to shorten the duration of upper respiratory tract infections, such as acute bronchitis and the common cold. Kaloba® Syrup is suitable for the whole family aged 6+, including asthma sufferers. For more information visit www.kaloba.co.uk or find the Cold Crusader on Facebook.

Q. MrsSpa: What do you think about 'first defence' products that are supposed to stop a cold in its tracks?

A. Dr Chris Steele: No product, whether it's labelled 'first defence' or whatever will stop the common cold virus attacking your body. Medical researchers have been battling for years to prevent or cure the 'common cold' and it's just not possible to do this, because there are hundreds of different viruses that cause the common cold.

However, there is some convincing scientific evidence that shows natural products such as Pelargonium does shorten the duration and severity of virus (eg common cold/flu) infections that attack the nasal passages and upper respiratory airways. 

Q. MynameIsInigoMontoya: Is there anything that actually works to get rid of a cough more quickly? And if not, why do coughs seem to be so hard to treat? Over-the-counter cough medicine seems to do very little to help. I have been coughing for over three weeks now (cold followed by infection) and still can't shake it off and my ribs are very sore.

A. Dr Chris Steele: If you or any of your family is suffering from a cough that is persistent and troublesome at night, in particular, you must ask your doctor to check you for asthma.

"In my mind, any child with a persistent night-time cough has asthma, till proven otherwise"

Many undiagnosed asthmatics do not have a wheezy chest, but just a cough, which is often worse at night - due to exposure to house dust mites in the bedding. This advice particularly applies to children. In my mind, any child with a persistent night-time cough has asthma, till proven otherwise.

Colds while pregnant or breastfeeding 

Q. SuiGeneris: What can be done to loosen nasal mucus generally and particularly when pregnant? Have tried having lots of warm drinks and inhaling steam, but bending over a sink is hard with a big bump and full sinuses.

A. Dr Chris Steele: The safest way of clearing your airways while pregnant is exactly what you're doing. Most importantly, no drugs/medications going into your body or your little baby's body. Keep inhaling steam through your nose and breathing out through your mouth, while covering your head with a towel. There are several inhalation products available that can help clear your airways, when immersed in hot water as an inhalation - ask your pharmacist. 

Q. Yellowflowers: My three-year-old son has a cold, and because I am also breastfeeding my other son who is three months old I keep reading about the famous antibodies I am passing to him which will help prevent him getting sick, too.

So my question is: can I help my three year old get over a cold quicker by giving him a cup of expressed breast milk? Would it give him added protection against colds if he drank it before getting sick and if so, how much would he have to drink and how often?

A. Dr Chris Steele: Wow, a great question, to which I would say - yes. Breast milk is such a good source of the natural antibodies that you have developed throughout your life, and you'll be passing those onto your young one. What a cracking idea.

Q. oftheisle:  What can you take for cold/flu symptoms when breastfeeding?

A. Dr Chris Steele:  If you're looking to buy a cold or flu remedy, read the labels on the packets, as pharmaceutical companies are very careful and responsible when advising which products can or cannot be used when breastfeeding.

To be doubly sure, ask the pharmacist. Never forget that pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals and they will advise you on which products are best to take and which should be avoided. Your own GP will know your full medical history, and just a phone call to the surgery could provide you with sound medical advice.



Q. Linerunner: What is the relationship between the cold virus and asthma? Is the evidence clear?

A. Dr Chris Steele: From my understanding there seems no strong link between the cold virus and asthma. But do look more closely at your family history. Is there anyone with allergies of any sort, or anyone with asthma?

One of the most common causes of asthma is an allergy to the house dust mite, which is hidden in bedding, carpets and soft furnishings. Whoever has the asthma that you're concerned about should be tested for allergies. Talk to your GP. 

Q. whoknowsme: I have been told that as I have other allergy stuff (hayfever and eczema) that I just will be more prone to colds, but why?

A. Dr Chris Steele: No, you're not more prone to colds, but you may react more quickly and sensitively to the virus of the common cold.



Q. Zipzap: Is it worth getting a flu jab done now - even though it is near the end of the flu season - and will it have a knock-on effect on getting it done next year if I get it done at the start of the jab season next year (ie do I have to wait a year until I can get the next one)? And should I be getting my children (aged six and three) to have flu jab, too?

A. Dr Chris Steele: If you can get a flu jab now, go for it. Flu is very common in February, so get injected - not infected.  

Q. GeorgeEliot: How does Kaloba work? I find Echinacea and Sambucol (black elderberry extract, high in antioxidants) quite effective if you take them when a cold is just coming on. Is this a similar product?

A. Dr Chris Steele: Kaloba (Pelargonium sidoides EPs®7630) is a licensed herbal medicine, which helps fight viral and bacterial infections by reducing the ability of the virus or bacteria to multiply in the body, and by increasing the body's ability to fight the infection.

It also helps to clear mucus from the respiratory tract and is proven to shorten the duration of upper respiratory tract infections, such as acute bronchitis and the common cold, and reduce the severity of the symptoms.



Last updated: 7 months ago