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Ethical Health –
Cold Remedies

Cold remedies can’t cure a cold, but instead work by relieving some of the individual symptoms, such as sore throats and headaches. Alongside the hundreds of different cough and cold medicines already on the market, new formulations are constantly being developed to make use of varying combinations of the key ingredients. Despite what the pharmaceuticals giants might claim, the difference between a branded drug and the cheaper generic equivalent is often minimal.

Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down

The common cold is caused by a virus infection in the nose, which can be triggered by one of over 2,000 different viruses, most of which are known as rhinoviruses. Adults usually get two to three colds a year, while children are more susceptible and usually average six to ten. Although adults build up an immunity to some of the viruses, there are so many of them and they mutate so quickly that the cold has remained one of the most widespread infectious illnesses around.

The familiar cold symptoms are a blocked nose, sore throat, sneezing and sometimes a headache or a slightly raised temperature. These are caused by the immune system’s reaction to the virus. They can’t be prevented, but can usually be eased with painkillers or a dedicated cold remedy. Cold remedies are available from the chemist without prescription, and generally include a painkiller, a decongestant and caffeine.

There has been a lot of debate about whether or not cold remedies actually work, but there can be no doubt that many people find they help to relieve the symptoms. Most remedies are now available in non-drowsy formulas so that they can be taken safely during the day, although they should not be combined with other medicines, such as paracetamol, in case of overdose.

Pharmaceutical giants‍‍‍

The companies in the cold remedy business are mostly big players in the pharmaceutical industry. It is an industry often and rightly criticised for inflated prices, animal testing and the marketing of banned or less suitable drugs in the Third World.

The Consumer Association has complained that branded cough and cold remedies are sold at higher prices than the equivalent generic drug, which will be just as effective at treating the symptoms. Some researchers have claimed that the remedies have no strictly medical benefit.


‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍According to UK law, a number of medical experiments have to be performed before a pharm‍‍‍aceutical product can be licensed. As a result, almost all pharmaceutical companies conduct or fund animal experimentation, making them a major contributor to animal testing. It is not just pharmaceutical products that are tested on animals: companies such as Procter & Gamble are known to test cosmetic ingredients on animals, although this process is not required by law.

The arguments against pharmaceutical testing on animals are well documented, and new technologies such as tissue cultures and computer modelling have increased the number of available alternatives to animal experiments. Despite regulation controlling the manner in which the legally required testing is carried out, animals are often found in appalling conditions.

Ethical ‍‍‍alternatives

‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍A weak immune system will increase susceptibi‍‍‍lity to colds and other viruses. Eating a balanced diet, includin‍‍‍g lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, will help to maintain a healthy immune system. Garlic, echinacea and vitamin C are all popular cold-prevention measures. High stress levels have also been shown to weaken the immune system.

The best treatment for cold symptoms is a combination of painkillers and hot drinks with honey and lemon. The drinks are particularly important to prevent the dehydration that might follow a mild fever, and they also have a soothing effect. Steam inhalations with oil vapour such as menthol or eucalyptus can be as effective as branded decongestants at helping to clear the airways. Another popular remedy is to bathe with drops of lavender, tea-tree and eucalyptus essential oils.

Key Research

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We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Clear Breathe, Aspar, Coldenza, Olbas Oil, Karvol, Lemsip Original, Neal’s Yard, Nurofen Cold and Flu, Cold-Eeze, Benylin 4 Flu, Sudafed, Vicks Vapour Rub, Beecham’s, Day Nurse

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning we earn commission if you click through and make a purchase. Placement and use of these links has no bearing in terms of the ethical scores that we give to a brand.  All commission earned by The Good Shopping Guide is re-invested into the research carried out by The Ethical Company Organisation.

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