Serie English for PTA: Help for the Swollen Nose

von Jane Funke and Hannelore Gießen

Autumn arrives often bringing with it sneezing and a runny nose – symptoms of a common cold. Many people with this ailment then come into the pharmacy looking for advice.

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Originalartikel als PDF

Usually a common cold is induced by one of more than 100 viruses responsible for this kind of trouble. Most often rhinoviruses are at the root of the matter.

Different Viruses, similar Symptoms

Whatever the virus infection may be, it usually results in inflammation of the mucous membrane that lines the sinuses. Colds spread when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes droplets containing the virus into the air. They can also be transmitted when someone with a cold, sneezes onto or touches a surface, leaving the virus behind to infect a new host. Prevention can be achieved mainly by hand washing and a healthy lifestyle but if a lot of people are already suffering from a cold, it is almost inevitable to come into contact with the virus and run the risk of falling ill.

Common symptoms include thick nasal mucous, a plugged nose and facial pain. Further signs and indications may include a high temperature, a headache, a poor sense of smell , a sore throat and/or a cough.

Symptoms vary, depending on the length and severity of the infection. If the patient has two or more of the above symptoms and a thick, green or yellow nasal discharge , they may be diagnosed with acute sinusitis.

Zertifizierte Fortbildung

Die zertifizierte Fortbildung zu Rhinologika finden Sie hier.

What brings Relief

Recommended treatment for most cases of sinusitis includes rest and drinking sufficient water to thin the mucus. Inhaling low temperature steam such as from a hot shower can relieve symptoms as can gargling with salt water. Sometimes nasal irrigation is helpful, especially in acute sinusitis where the upper respiratory tract is affected.

If the nose is badly blocked, decongestant nasal sprays may be administered. The most common substances are oxymetazoline and xylometazoline which are available both as nasal sprays or nasal drops. Other than those, products may contain one of the following substances: phenylephrine, tramazoline or tetryzoline. There are decongestants in some oral products, mainly those containing phenylephrine. Tetryzoline can also be found in anti-inflammatory eyedrops. They all belong to the group of alpha-sympathomimetics and are advisable not only for the treatment of rhinitis acuta but also for rhinitis allergica and additionally in cases of rhinosinusitis or otitis media.

The correct application of these remedies is crucial : The dose chosen should be as low as possible. The package leaflet recommends one drop or one spray in each nostril three times a day as the maximum. These medications should not be used for longer than the recommended period. Extended use may cause rebound sinusitis. If a longer application is absolutely necessary, a break of a few days should take place between the two applications. Each patient should therefore be offered thorough advisory service by the pharmaceutical team.

An unresolved Challenge

Despite great advances in medicine, the common cold continues to be a great burden on society in terms of human suffering and economic losses. Of the several viruses that cause the disease, the role of rhinoviruses is the most prominent.

Research into the inflammatory mechanisms of the common cold has shed some light on how complex the virus-host relation is. New antivirals for the treatment of colds are being developed but optimum use of these agents would require rapid detection of the specific virus causing the infection. Although vaccines against many respiratory viruses may also become available before long, seeking ways to prevent the common cold completely is still a top priority issue.




mucous membrane


to line

beschichten, auskleiden

to plug

hier: verstopfen




hier: Absonderung





to relieve


nasal irrigation




package leaflet








to shed light on

Licht werfen auf



escalator handrail





PTA: Good afternoon, can I help you?

Customer: Yes, please. Every year when summer’s over and the kids are back at school, we all seem to catch colds one after the other. Why is that and what can I do to prevent it?

PTA: Well, it’s quite normal that as the weather gets cooler, we tend to spend more time in closed spaces that are centrally heated. Busses, trains and classrooms are ideal locations for cold viruses to incubate and infect huge numbers of people. There is no real way to avoid contact with germs unless you totally isolate yourself but there are several things you can do to minimize the risk of infection.

Customer: I’m glad to hear that.

PTA: One of the most important ways to protect yourself is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water.

Customer: But it sometimes takes me more than an hour to get to work on public transport.

PTA: Okay, in that case you could carry a hand sanitiser gel or antibacterial wipes with you. They’re ideal after touching escalator handrails or office door handles. Don’t shake hands if you can help it.

Customer: Why is that?

PTA: More germs are passed on by shaking hands than by kissing. And you should avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth. Another thing is to eat healthy food and keep fit.

Customer: What sort of healthy food?

PTA: A balanced diet. Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Don’t overdo the hot pies and puddings as the weather gets colder and don’t become a couch potato.

Customer: What about vitamin C and other supplements?

PTA: Vitamin C might not prevent infection but it may boost your immune system. You should try to get a good night’s sleep as often as possible and drink plenty of fluids.

Customer: And what if we do catch colds in spite of all these precautions?

PTA. There are very good decongestant sprays and tablets available. It is important, however, to apply them correctly. How old are your children?

Customer: Our little one is just 18 months old; the others are six and eight.

PTA: In that case, the little one needs the lowest concentration of nose drops for babies. For the six-year-old, I suggest you use the product for toddlers ; only the eight-year-old should be given the concentration for schoolchildren and adults. You shouldn’t administer the nose drops or spray more than three times a day. It is often sufficient just to apply the decongestant at bedtime.

Customer: That’s good to know. Thank you.

PTA: You’re welcome. And I hope you stay healthy this autumn.

Jane Funke ist geborene Britin und erstellt als native Speaker gemeinsam mit Apothekerin Hannelore Gießen seit vielen Jahren die Serie „English for PTA“, die sich mit klassischen OTC-Themen befasst.

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