Colds, flu and COVID-19 in 2020 – what meds to take


The media offers a wealth of information regarding COVID-19 and the virus that causes it as well as what to do to prevent yourself from contracting the virus and from spreading it.

Most of you are working from home and are perhaps even taking on new jobs such as home schooling your children. Life as we know it has changed, we are currently staying at home as a national enhanced containment measure and, with winter around the corner, cold and flu season is upon us!

Pay attention to your symptoms

In the time of COVID-19, it is essential that if you have symptoms of common cold or flu that you make sure this is what you have and that you do not have COVID-19. If you have a fever, or sore throat, cough and difficulty breathing, please seek medical assistance and follow the advice provided by the National Department of Health. A healthcare provider will prescribe the necessary treatment based on your diagnosis.

There is a great deal of information out there as what to do when you do have the common cold or have flu. This article concentrates on medicine you can get without a doctor’s prescription (over the counter medicine) that you can take to alleviate your symptoms. During national enhanced containment, you are permitted to visit your pharmacy. However, we recommend you rather call and have a telephonic discussion with your pharmacist first. Most pharmacies deliver.

So where to from here?

Types of medicine to treat symptoms

It is important that you speak to your healthcare provider or pharmacist as to which medicine is best for you, and about which medicines you are currently taking.

To control a fever, you will normally use medicine that contains ingredients such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti inflammatories (NSAIDs). Whilst NSAIDs such as ibuprofen will help with your aches and pains, it may worsen any underlying conditions such as asthma or even Covid-19. NSAIDs may mask the symptoms of Covide-19. We therefore would provide caution with regard to the use of NSAIDs, especially in the era of COVID-19, unless instructed by your medical doctor. Carefully check the combination products available to ensure that they do not contain NSAIDs.

Aspirin may also be used to reduce fever. Do not give aspirin to anyone under 19 years of age, as it has been linked with Reye’s syndrome, a sometimes fatal illness that affects children and teens. In patients with gastric reflux or a history of ulcers, it would also not be advisable to take aspirin.

What is out there in terms of over the counter medicine?

Speak to your local pharmacist to help you choose the best over the counter medicine that you can purchase without a doctor’s prescription.

Reduce fever

To reduce fever at this COVID-19 time, your recommended options include paracetamol or combination products without ibuprofen as a precautionary measure.

Sore throat

If you have a sore throat, for relief, take lozenges or throat sprays that can help to numb the throat pain. Your pharmacist will be able to direct you as to which is the best option for you. You can purchase many of these lozenges from your local supermarket.

Combination medicine to treat many symptoms

Many of the common cold and flu medicine are what we call ‘combination medicine’ and will contain something to clear up your blocked nose (decongestant), ease your muscle aches and pains (analgesic) and control your fever. Be sure to talk to your pharmacist or healthcare provider to ensure that you do not take more medicine than is necessary or is recommended.


If you have a cough and cold, please be sure to advise your pharmacist whether it is a dry or wet cough and if you have any pre-existing respiratory history and ask for the appropriate cough remedy.

Get better soon.

Brought to you by the Self Care Association of South Africa and Discovery Health

All medical information found on this website including content, graphics and images, is for educational and informational objectives only. Discovery Health publishes this content to help to protect and empower all South Africans by promoting a better understanding of COVID-19.

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