Surveys note disparity among consumers, pharmacists on how to treat common cold

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. A new national survey of U.S. adults has found the majority of Americans are misinformed about what causes the common cold, and how and when they should treat it. Nearly three-quarters of consumers (72%) believed there is not much they can do about a cold except mask the symptoms and wait it out. In fact, one-third of cold sufferers admitted they wait until they feel miserable before taking medications that can help.

According to a second survey of U.S. pharmacists, this consumer belief is in direct contrast to what the majority of U.S. pharmacists believed — 93% of pharmacists reported that early treatment of a cold actually can prevent a trip to the doctor’s office, and 84% of pharmacists believed consumers often make poor choices about the best treatments for their colds.

“Consumer misperceptions about how they catch a cold — and how and when they should treat a cold — are the most prevalent barriers to optimal treatment,” stated Fred Eckel, professor of pharmacy practice and experiential education at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy. “As cold season approaches, it’s important for consumers to understand the benefits of early intervention against a cold, and to focus on effective ways to shorten its duration. The results of this survey mirror what pharmacists see every day: Our patients still believe many of the myths they grew up with, and they need better information on how to treat their colds.”

The surveys, commissioned by Matrixx Initiatives, also found that most consumers harbor myths about what causes a cold and what remedies are effective. While 86% of consumer survey respondents understood that colds are caused by viruses, 65% of consumer survey respondents also incorrectly believed that bacteria can cause a cold, and 53% of consumer survey respondents mistakenly believed a cold can be treated with antibiotics.

The top five myths about colds that pharmacists said are most difficult to debunk are:

  • Antibiotics can kill the germs that cause colds;
  • Changes in the weather can cause colds;
  • Getting wet and chilled can cause colds;
  • Sitting in a draft can cause colds; and
  • Avoiding changes in temperatures will help prevent colds.

“The surveys point to a clear need for pharmacists and doctors to educate consumers on early intervention, and help them identify the best remedies to treat the common cold early and help them get over it faster,” Eckel said.