How often do you have a sniffle or a cough, feel congested or have a slight fever?  Chances are quite commonly you have caught a cold. Sore throat and runny nose are commonly the first signs of a cold, often followed by sneezing and coughing. Other symptoms include headaches and body aches.


The most common cause of the common cold is a rhinovirus, (single stranded RNA virus) which thrives in a temperature of 33-35 degrees C; the temperature found in the nasal cavity.  Rhinovirus is a major cause of acute respiratory diseases, (URTI’s) in both adults and children.

Other viruses that can cause colds include respiratory syncytial virus, human parainfluenza viruses, adenovirus, human coronaviruses, and human metapneumovirus.

Signs and symptoms normally appear within 1-3 days of exposure to the virus, and in a robust immune supported system, will be overcome within a fortnight.  Spread is through the air and close personal contact, faeces, touching surfaces that have been exposed to the virus then touching your face!

Rhinoviruses are also implicated in otitis media (commonly leading to antibiotic overuse) and sinusitis.  Replication of the virus is however, not limited to the upper respiratory tract and may replicate in the lower respiratory tract leading to further complications, especially in the elderly.


There are some recommendations to help prevent the transmission and infection from the virus, such as staying at home if you are infected to avoid the spread and keep your children away from school and day care until they are no longer considered contagious. Hand washing with warm soapy water helps to kill the virus and prevent the spread. Cough into a tissue and dispose of it appropriately, move away from people that are coughing or sneezing are also recommended.

There is no known cure for the common cold, however, should you succumb to it stay well hydrated, keep warm and avoid contact with others where possible to prevent the spread.

Antibiotics will not cure a cold.  They are often prescribed for a concomitant infection and this contributes to the overuse of antibiotics.

There are, however ways to help alleviate your symptoms with some well researched herbal remedies.


An herb that has been used for centuries, Echinacea has been misaligned and misunderstood for many reasons.


There are many Echinacea products which differ according to species, plant part, quality markers and dosage.


The wide variety of products available is why there is controversy surrounding Echinacea and its effectiveness. This is evidenced in a 2014 Cochrane review, where the findings were insignificant at best, however, due to the assessments being complicated by different species used in the studies, along with different plant parts, methods of extraction and combination of therapies. The study summarised the difficulty in evidencing a reproducible benefit despite the pharmacological attributes of the herb. (1)

Traditionally described as an antiseptic, anti-viral and peripheral vasodilator, Echinacea was indicated in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia for conditions such as furunculosis, septicaemia, naso-pharyngeal catarrh, pyorrhoea and tonsillitis and specifically for boils, carbuncles and abscesses.

Move forward to the age of scientific validation, using more rigorous methodology for the use of this herb and we can find a plethora of quality evidence in the use of Echinacea to support the immune system and assist the alleviation of symptoms of the common cold, reduce the incidence and duration of the common cold as either as a stand-alone remedy or in combination with other herbal remedies. (2-4)

Indeed, clinical inoculation with standardised extracts of Echinacea was proven to be effective in the prevention of the symptoms of the common cold when compared with placebo, using three, high quality, random control trials over 390 patients. (5)

A 2015 meta-analysis of random controlled trials, a pinnacle of research data, over six trials with 2458 participants with placebo controls, proved

  • Use of Echinacea extracts was associated with reduced risk of recurrent respiratory infections
  • Reduced infection duration of 1.4 days
  • Overall complication incidence being effectively reduced by 50% with Echinacea
  • Decreased need for the prescription of anti-biotics. (3)

Whilst we can hypothesize continually regarding the outcome of the use of Echinacea, what we really need to look at is the irrefutable clinical evidence of results drive formulations, along with solid, meta-analysis reporting on the benefit of this time-honoured herb.

The research repeatedly confirms the traditional use of this invaluable herb in the treatment and prophylaxis of the common cold and given the lack of reported side effects, its efficaciousness and prophylactic properties, the use of this valuable herbal remedy must be included in our home medicine chest.


  1. Karsch-Völk M, Barrett B, Kiefer D, Bauer R, Ardjomand-Woelkart K, Linde K. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews [Internet]. 2014; (2). Available from:

  1. Wagner L, Cramer H, Klose P, Lauche R, Gass F, Dobos G, et al. Herbal Medicine for Cough: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Forschende Komplementärmedizin/Research in Complementary Medicine. 2015;22(6):359-68.
  2. Schapowal A, Klein P, Johnston SL. Echinacea reduces the risk of recurrent respiratory tract infections and complications: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Advances in therapy. 2015;32(3):187-200.
  3. Shah SA, Sander S, White CM, Rinaldi M, Coleman CI. Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis. Lancet Infectious Diseases. 2007;7(7):473-80.
  4. Schoop R, Klein P, Suter A, Johnston SL. Echinacea in the prevention of induced rhinovirus colds: A meta-analysis. Clinical Therapeutics. 2006;28(2):174-83.