4 Common Cold Findings for Pharmacy Techs to Know


Most pharmacy technicians are all too familiar with the seemingly endless crowd of patients who come to the pharmacy for cold and cough treatments during the winter.

Most pharmacy technicians are all too familiar with the seemingly endless crowd of patients who come to the pharmacy for cold and cough treatments during the winter.

As they direct cold-related questions to their pharmacists, many techs may wish to understand more about the condition themselves. Those looking to stay up-to-date on the latest cold and cough research should read about the following studies.

1. Sudden Temperature Drops Potentially Linked to Cold Infections

Further evidence may support the commonly held belief that patients exposed to sudden decreases in temperature are more likely to develop the common cold.

A recent review published in Medical Hypotheses highlighted several separate studies in which lower temperatures were found to increase patients’ susceptibility to viral infections such as the common cold while activating dormant virions. Across all of the studies, sudden decreases in temperature greater than 5 degrees Celsius were associated with increases in viral acute respiratory infections 1 week later.

These spikes in infection rates were observed even in unseasonably warm temperatures, indicating that absolute temperature was not likely a factor. Humidity and climate were also not found to affect infection rates, as patients in rainy climates developed a comparable number of infections as those in dry climates.

Although further research is needed to determine the mechanisms behind these results, the sudden temperature drops may cause reflex vasoconstriction of the upper airways, which can reduce a patient’s local immune response magnitude, according to Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP.

2. Patients Often Unaware of Cold Medication Mixing Risks

Patients who take multiple OTC medications for a cold or pain relief may not understand the risks they face in doing so.

Mixing OTC cold treatments and painkillers can prove dangerous because many of these products contain acetaminophen, the overuse of which can potentially cause severe liver damage. Patients who overdose on OTC products containing ibuprofen and naproxen can also put themselves at risk for gastrointestinal bleeding or kidney damage.

Alarmingly, the results of 5 surveys recently conducted by researchers in California revealed that the majority of consumers are unaware that taking 2 or more OTC cold medicines and pain relievers could lead to the health issues.

OTC medication mixing is particularly problematic among teenagers. Despite their lack of information on proper use, about half of all teens in the United States self-medicate with OTC drugs, according to separate national surveys of parents and sixth graders.

Fortunately, pharmacists and technicians can promote OTC medication safety by encouraging patients to carefully read the labels and check the active ingredients of any OTC product they plan to use, and to avoid taking OTC acetaminophen products in combination with prescription drugs.

3. Nasal Corticosteroids Deemed Insufficient as Common Cold Treatments

Although intranasal corticosteroids such as Flonase have proven to be effective treatments for some upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs), they do not appear to adequately treat the common cold.

A recent analysis of 3 studies that examined the use of steroids in patients with the common cold determined that intranasal corticosteroids did not reduce the time until symptom resolution. In fact, the use of these medications prolonged sore throat in 1 of the trials.

While another trial found that the use of intranasal corticosteroids was associated with a mean reduction in symptom severity scores, the research team deemed the study methods fundamentally flawed.

Based on these findings, the authors ultimately concluded that corticosteroids have no added efficacy or risk in treating the common cold, though they acknowledged that additional placebo-controlled trials are needed to establish the effects of corticosteroids on the duration of cold symptoms, school and work productivity, and the shedding of active virus. They also noted that patients should continue taking any otherwise indicated corticosteroids during a cold.

Their analysis was published in Cochrane Collaboration.

4. Antibiotics Overprescribed for Acute Respiratory Tract Infections

Acute URTIs such as the common cold are generally caused by viruses and therefore do not require antibiotics, yet many patients still receive antibiotic prescriptions to treat these conditions.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Managed Care examined trends in antibiotic prescribing by analyzing data on 54,656 patients who were diagnosed with viral acute URTIs. Although previous studies have demonstrated that antibiotics do not improve outcomes among patient with these conditions, the current research found that almost half (49.4%) of participants filled a prescription for an antibiotic.

Antibiotics were most commonly prescribed for patients seen in an urgent care facility or by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Additionally, 70% of patients were prescribed antibiotics for coughs classified as acute bronchitis, despite the fact that antibiotics are not effective for this condition.

The overuse of antibiotics can have serious consequences, as the drug class is responsible for 1 in every 5 emergency room visits related to adverse drug events, according to the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many health care professionals also fear that diseases may grow resistant to antibiotics as a result of their overuse. This concern prompted the creation of 5-year National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistance Bacteria, an executive action signed by President Obama in September 2014.

Pharmacists and technicians looking to promote antibiotic stewardship should familiarize themselves with the ACP and CDC’s recently published recommendations on prescribing antibiotics for URTIs.

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