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Ask the pharmacist: Are steam inhalations a good idea?

Colin Dougall from LloydsPharmacy in Glasgow answers your medicine queries

As part of a weekly series, in association with LloydsPharmacy, Colin Dougall from LloydsPharmacy in Glasgow answers your common medicine queries…

Q: Are steam inhalations a good idea?

 A: They can help ease headaches caused by a cold and sinusitis, but there’s no scientific evidence they help clear out mucus from the nose and sinuses. 

That’s because the problem here is inflammation, causing the tissue to swell. When it comes to clearing out mucus, nasal irrigation – with saline nasal spray or a home-made solution – is more effective than steam inhalations. For advice on making your own solution see the NHS Choices website. 

Steam inhalations  can help ease headaches caused by a cold and sinusitis,

Steam inhalations can help ease headaches caused by a cold and sinusitis,

That’s because the problem here is inflammation, causing the tissue to swell. When it comes to clearing out mucus, nasal irrigation – with saline nasal spray or a home-made solution – is more effective than steam inhalations. For advice on making your own solution see the NHS Choices website.

Q: Will taking echinacea stop me getting a cold?

A: Some people swear by it, but scientifically the jury is still out – some studies show echinacea can reduce the length of the cold by between 10 and 30 per cent, others found it has very little or no effect. 

The jury is still out on whether echinacea can stop you getting a cold

The jury is still out on whether echinacea can stop you getting a cold

The idea is that echinacea boosts the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells that kill off the bug. If you feel it works for you, there’s not harm in taking it although some people can experience side-effects such as a rash or upset stomach. Echinacea is not suitable if you have an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, or for children under 12. 

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