Pharmacy U

Cold, cough, flu? Pharmacists have you covered


Cynthia Ignacio relies on her OTC cough and cold section to spark an uptick in customer traffic.


By Jack Kohane



“Especially in winter, when people move indoors and are more susceptible to spread the virus via hand to hand contact,” says the pharmacy manager of the Rexall store in Collingwood, Ont., north of Toronto. “Patients are more likely to self-medicate and bypass the doctor if they know that their cold and symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter options. Once in the pharmacy they are apt to pick up other items such as Kleenex, fluids for rehydration, and more.”

Ignacio believes it’s crucial for pharmacists to educate and update themselves on the ever-changing options for treatment. “It’s important to ask the right questions and listen to our patients to make the proper recommendation as to which medication may work best and more importantly, which ones will not,” she says.

The cold/cough/flu category works best in cold weather. Strong cough, cold and flu seasons in 2016/17 and 2017/18 helped push dollar sales of OTC cold remedies up by 8% to reach $288 million during the year ending January 6, 2018, according to Nielsen/IQVIA.

Cold, cough and flu treatments go hand in hand

So, how to boost sales in the cough and cold department? “Flu shots and flu-related products go hand in hand,” insists Ignacio. “Patients coming in for a flu shot are a ‘captive’ audience, so it presents the ideal opportunity to talk about other prevention or treatment options in the category.” Ignacio also reminds patients about tips for preventing the spread of flu or germs such as limiting hand-to-hand contact, frequent hand washing, antibacterial hand gels, and staying home when the flu bug strikes. “Those are just as important as taking any medication,” she notes.

Riti Singh, country medical affairs lead for Pfizer Consumer Healthcare Canada, agrees there is a role for both prevention and self-care. “Prevention is the number one goal, and administering a flu shot is a first step to prevention,” she says. “However, if cold or flu still hits, self-care options for treating the symptoms with OTC products are available to provide temporary relief of the symptoms associated with colds and influenza.”

Singh sees pharmacists having a positive impact on the health of Canadians and helping to spur the category’s growth. “For example, pharmacist programs, including education clinics on topics such as management of flu, cough and cold symptoms, overview of OTC treatment options for symptomatic relief, accurate dosing, and measures to reduce spread of germs/infection, would be beneficial,” she says.

Pharmacists can help manage symptoms

The accessibility of the community pharmacist makes the pharmacy the first stop for patients attempting to manage their cold and flu symptoms.

As for counselling the parents of patients under six about giving OTC cough and cold products, pharmacy manager Cynthia Ignacio is unequivocal. “It’s important to reinforce the fact that typical adult cough and cold medications have been proven to be of little benefit to children under the age of six and may actually pose more of a risk,” Ignacio states. “The best treatments for children in this age group are adequate hydration, saline nasal drops, acetaminophen and plenty of rest.”



  1. The flu affects 10 to 20 per cent of Canadians each year. While the majority who become sick do recover, it is estimated that approximately 12,200 require hospitalizations, and, on average, 3,500 Canadians die each year (The Public Health Agency of Canada).
  2. One in five Canadian kids are given cold medicines despite warning labels that they shouldn’t be given to children under six as they can cause side-effects such as heart palpitations and high blood pressure (The Canadian Journal of Public Health).
  3. To help provide temporary relief from the symptoms of coughs and colds for children under six, suggest these non-medicinal measures (recommended by Health Canada):
  • Allow the child adequate rest.
  • Clear nasal passages.
  • Ensure plenty of clear fluids (e.g. water, diluted non-sweetened fruit juice, or clear soups) to prevent dehydration while keeping the throat moist.
  • Provide a comfortable environment with adequate humidity.