Confusion over how long a cold should last could be causing thousands of unnecessary GP appointments each winter

Published on: 8 February 2016


Research commissioned by PAGB has revealed that the nation is confused about how long a common cold should typically last and are worryingly still visiting their GP at the first sign of a sniffle.

The research discovered that 71% of people think that symptoms of a common cold should only be present for 3 – 6 days and one fifth claim they would visit the GP for cold and flu symptoms after 7 days or less . NHS Choices recommends only seeing your GP if symptoms of a cold persist for more than three weeks, or if you are having complications such as breathing difficulties, chest pain or coughing up bloodstained mucus – this confusion could be causing thousands of unnecessary doctors’ appointments each year and putting additional strain on NHS services.

One of the most common reasons people (36%) visit the GP when suffering with self-treatable winter conditions is because they want or think they need antibiotics . However, antibiotics don’t have any impact on upper respiratory tract infections which are caused by viruses. A further 7% also visit their doctor to get recommendations on the medicines they should take to treat their symptoms, advice they can easily obtain from a pharmacist . Over a third or people (37%) also admitted that they never use their pharmacist as a source of health information .

John Smith, PAGB Chief Executive, said:

“Too many people are still unsure on how long symptoms of self-treatable conditions such as colds should last for and don’t know how to effectively manage the symptoms themselves without visiting their GP. On average, over an hour a day of every GP’s time is spent discussing self-treatable conditions , such as coughs and colds, even though people are advised to not to see their GP unless symptoms are still present after 3 weeks.

“The pharmacy should be the first port of call for people who are looking for advice on how they can manage minor ailments. Pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals and will be able to recommend the appropriate treatment based on the individuals symptoms and lifestyle choices, or advise you to see GP if they think it’s necessary.”

MEDIA RELEASE: duration of colds and flu research