In the UK we spend £300m on cold and flu remedies each year, but with such a huge number of products on offer in pharmacies it can be easy to spend more than you need.
While it’s not possible to cure a cold, there’s lots you can do to feel better while you recover. Top tactics include relieving a blocked nose with decongestant sprays or tablets, and easing aches or a high temperature with painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
If you have to make a trip to the shops to stock on supplies such as these, read our tips on how you can better spend your money this cold and flu season.
1. Buy own-brand medicines
Many people believe branded cold and flu remedies are more effective at dealing with the symptoms of cold and flu. Household names such as Lemsip and Sudafed play on these perceptions to drive their sales. This is despite the majority of these remedies using the same active ingredients and working in the same way as cheaper own-brand counterparts.
We compared the prices of popular cold and flu medicines in the big four supermarkets (Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco) with their own-brand versions. Our research found that branded products were, on average, more than double the price of the own-brand remedies. One product, Nuromol (which is simply paracetamol and ibuprofen combined into one tablet), had a markup of over 700% in Sainsbury’s compared with the supermarket’s own-brand paracetamol and ibuprofen, sold separately.
The trade body which represents the branded cold and flu products, the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), defended the higher prices saying: ‘Branded OTC [over the counter] medicines enjoy a long-standing heritage of trust and manufacturers invest heavily in years of research and new product development.’
Related: read our full guide to choosing the best painkillers.
2. Don’t overdo the vitamin C
When the first signs of the flu start to show, many people take vitamin C supplements in an effort to fight off their symptoms. However, most experts agree that there is very little evidence to suggest that a big increase in Vitamin C does anything to help combat cold and flu symptoms.
The NHS warns that ‘megadoses’ of more than 1000mg per day can lead to the development of negative symptoms such as stomach pain and diarrhoea. The NHS recommended daily allowance (RDA) for Vitamin C is around 40mg a day for adults.
Your normal diet should easily cover what you need, without needing supplements. Apricots, oranges, and pineapples are tasty examples of fruits high in Vitamin C, which are guaranteed to be much more satisfying than supplements, saving you a needless trip to the shops while poorly.
3. Get yourself a free flu jab
A flu jab can be an effective way to help prevent you from getting ill in the first place. You can get the flu jab for free on the NHS if you are:
- aged 65 and over
- have an underlying health condition (such as asthma or a heart condition)
- have a weakened immune system.
If you don’t fall into one of these groups, there are many places which offer the flu jab for a fee. Asda has the cheapest flu jab, costing you just £5, compared with Boots, which will charge you £12.99. Alternatively, check with your employer to see if they offer you an opportunity to get immunized as part of your workplace benefits.
4. Gargle salt water for a sore throat
You can save yourself a few pounds on sore throat-soothing products by gargling salt water instead. This old-fashioned treatment may not taste as good as an off-the-shelf remedy, but it’s an NHS-recommended tactic, and you’ll also avoid the many pharmacy throat products that are high in sugar.
Find out more about the everyday health products you don’t need.