Coming down with a cold or flu is a miserable experience for millions of Canadians, with an average of 20,000 hospitalizations and 4,000 deaths from influenza reported each year. While prevention is the best strategy–healthy eating, adequate rest and an annual flu vaccine–the fact is, adults get an average of two to four colds each year, and children get between five and 10. Older adults seem to have higher immunity to the common cold, but it’s a different story for influenza, which holds the biggest risk of mortality for people 65 and over.
Health authorities say it’s too early to predict how this year’s flu season will play out, but it’s safe to bet a lot of people will be in the market for products and advice on everything from how to avoid getting sick to how to relieve symptoms. And grocery stores are a good place to find help.
When they’re feeling under the weather, consumers often head to the over-the-counter medication aisle for analgesics, cough syrup and decongestants. Although this is a huge product category in terms of dollars–cough and cold alone is worth about $350 million in all channel sales–there hasn’t been much innovation in this area in recent years. Speros Dorovenis, pharmacy manager for Loblaw at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, points out that products are actually disappearing from his shelves. Medication targeted at children is particularly affected since it is no longer recommended for kids younger than six years old.
“When it comes to recommending products for colds and flu, we try to help customers on an individual basis,” he says, noting that herbal and natural products are a popular way to help prevent or treat symptoms. But trends in natural health products come and go as people try different products and find that they work or don’t work.
Two of the biggest areas right now are zinc lozenges and ginseng, according to Dorovenis. “Ginseng, for example, has received a lot of publicity but consumers need to understand that it is important to take the right formula and dosage,” he says. “They often think that ‘natural’ means ‘safe,’ but there are still possible interactions that people need to know about.”
WHAT’S NEW IN FLU?
FLUMIST: a needle-free way to prevent the flu, the nasal spray provides a fine mist into the nose. Only available from a clinic, doctor or pharmacist.
ADVIL COLD AND FLU: product combats both cold and flu symptoms and contains Ibuprofen for pain and fever, and Diphenhydramine Citrate for runny nose and sneezing.
BENYLIN VAPOUR PLUG: a mini waterless vaporizer that once plugged in releases an aromatic blend of menthol and eucalyptus vapours. There are also refill pads.
BENYLIN DM TICKLY THROAT & COUGH: aims to relieve scratchy throat and irritating cough. It is intended for people 12 and older