Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
Do medications that fight a cold’s symptoms prolong the cold? © iStock

Do medications that fight a cold’s symptoms prolong the cold?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

Washing down your cold and flu pills with hot honey and lemon might make you feel better in yourself, but it's probably not hurting the virus.

Asked by: Anonymous


Most of the symptoms of a cold are not signs that the body is fighting off the infection so much as responses engineered by the virus to help ensure its spread. Runny nose, streaming eyes, coughing and sneezing are all ways to get virus particles outside your body and spread them as widely as possible.

The only symptom that could be considered part of the immune response is fever. This is more usually a sign that you have flu, rather than one of the upper respiratory tract infections lumped together as ‘a cold’.

Fever has been shown to make the body a less favourable environment for some pathogens and also to increase the proliferation of white blood cells. But evidence that using drugs to reduce the fever prolongs flu or a cold is much less conclusive.

Virtually every alternative and conventional medicine (with the exception of anti-virals for flu) appears to have no significant impact on a cold’s duration.

Read more:


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.


luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.


Sponsored content