Research Reveals Brits Still Expect Antibiotics for the Common Cold

Research Reveals Brits Still Expect  Antibiotics for the Common Cold

Ah, the common cold…chesty cough, raging temperature, aching muscles, runny nose and a scratchy throat…

When those all too familiar symptoms of the common cold strike, a third of UK patients admit to visiting their GP seeking treatment, according to new research from ColdZyme. 85% of us then waste more than an hour waiting to be seen by the GP.

Despite doctors being given fresh advice not to prescribe antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, around two thirds of patients (61%) have requested antibiotics to treat their cold. The survey of over 2000 people also highlighted that just under a quarter expect to leave their appointment with a prescription in their hands.

The findings showed stark contrasts in approaches and attitudes to dealing with cold symptoms.

Men it seems, are much more likely to visit their GP with a common cold (41%) than women (25%). When it comes to asking the doctor for antibiotics to treat a cold, 70% of men said they would do so, compared to just 47% of women.

Mum still knows best, or so it seems for nearly a fifth of Brits who ask their mums for cold/flu advice. For those treating themselves and their cold at home, lemon and honey (53%) remains the Brit’s go-to ‘old’ remedy, followed by Vitamin C – oranges or orange juice (35%), chicken soup (19%), whisky or other spirits (19%) and then ‘feeding a cold’ (16%).

Some of the more unusual alternative remedies however, include rubbing essential oils on feet (8%), chewing raw onions (8%) and even putting onions in socks to cure a cold (7%).

When it comes to the British ‘stiff upper lip’, 89% of us admitted going into work with a cold before, while nearly two thirds (63%) would feel guilty taking time off work for a cold.

Over a third (37%) of us have avoided telling our boss the truth when suffering from a cold, with nearly a quarter (23%) ‘lying’ and saying it’s another illness.

Speaking of the findings, Fiona Hicks of ColdZyme UK commented:
“The study really brought home just how many people will try and keep going when they have a cold. 40% will force themselves to attend a social engagement to “prove” they have a cold, rather than be judged for cancelling plans. Yet 1 in 5 confessed they have annoyed family members after turning up to a social occasion with a cold. With festive gatherings looming, when you’re suffering with a cold, it’s important to get the rest you need at home and use proven remedies to help you feel better.”


Research Reveals Brits Still Expect  Antibiotics for the Common Cold

The full findings


Visiting the Doctors with a cold
  • Over a third of Brits (33%) have been to the doctors with a cold
  • 22% have only waited 3 days whilst suffering with a cold, before visiting the doctors
  • A quarter of those who have visited the doctors with a cold waited up to 5 days

The most popular things Brits do at home to treat a cold before visiting the doctors are:
  • Take cold and flu medicine - 53%
  • Take paracetamol – 51%
  • Take vitamin C – 48%
  • Drink lots of water – 47%
  • Increase fruit and vegetable intake – 35%
  • Have a hot and steamy bath – 33%

Brits are most likely to visit the doctors after experiencing the following symptoms:
  • Chesty cough – 48%
  • Temperature – 45%
  • Aching muscles – 37%
  • Fatigue/tiredness – 35%
  • Sore throat – 33%
  • Headaches – 32%
  • Loss of appetite
  • Runny or stuffy nose – 25%
  • Up to 85% of those who have visited the doctors to treat a cold have wasted up to an hour in the waiting room
  • 8% have even wasted up to 2 hours!
  • Two thirds (61%) of those visiting the doctors requested antibiotics to treat the cold
  • A quarter (23%) of Brits would expect the doctors to give them antibiotics to treat a cold

Treating a cold. When Brits have colds, they are most likely to:
  • Take cold and flu medicine – 53%
  • Take paracetamol – 53%
  • Drink lots of water – 48%
  • Go to bed early – 43%
  • Increase fruit and vegetable intake – 22%
  • Nothing in particular – wait for it to pass – 21%
  • Have a hot and steamy bath – 19%
  • Go to the doctor – 8%
  • Lemon and honey (53%) is Brits ‘go-to’ old remedy for treating a cold, followed Vitamin C – oranges or orange juice (35%), chicken soup (19%), whisky or other spirit (19%) and ‘feeding a cold’ (16%)

Weird remedies Brits have tried to cure, or shorten a cold include:
  • Rubbing essential oils on feet – 8%
  • Chew raw onions – 8%
  • Put onions in socks – 7%
  • 2 in 5 don’t seek any cold or flu advice
  • Nearly a fifth (17%) would go to their Mum for cold/flu advice.
  • Nearly two thirds (63%) would feel guilty taking time off work for a cold
  • Over a third (37%) have avoided telling their boss the truth when suffering from a cold, with nearly a quarter (23% lying and saying it’s another illness
  • 89% of Brits have been into work with a cold before
  • Over half of respondents (54%) would feel guilty about cancelling plans with family or friends due to having a cold
  • 40% of respondents would rather force themselves to attend a social engagement to “prove” they have a cold, rather than be judged or not believed for cancelling plans
  • 1 in 5 (22%) have had a family member become annoyed at them after turning up to a social occasion with a cold



Impact of Gender:
  • Men are much more likely to visit the doctors (41%) than women (25%)
  • A quarter (25%) of men are only waiting 3 days before visiting the doctors
  • 35% of women are waiting over 7 days before visiting the doctors
  • Before heading to the doctors with a cold, most men take vitamin C (52%), whereas most women will take paracetamol (58%)
  • Over half of men (55%) had to wait 1 hour or more before being seen by a doctor, whilst over a quarter (27%) of women had to wait just as long
  • More men (70%) than women (47%) asked the doctor for antibiotics to treat a cold
  • 31% of men would want/expect to receive anti-biotics from the doctors with a really bad cold, whereas just 16% of women would want/expect antibiotics
  • Men are more likely to get advice on cold and flu (67%) than women (48%)
  • Almost half (46%) of men feel they are unable to tell their boss the truth when suffering with a cold, whilst just 27% of women feel they can’t tell the truth
  • More women (92%) have been into work with a cold, than men (87%)
  • 45% of men compared to just 35% of women, would rather force themselves to attend a social engagement to “prove” they really do have a cold

Impact of Age:
  • Over half of 18-35 year olds have been to the doctors with a cold (53%), in contrast to just 24% of over 35’s
  • People aged 65+ are least likely to have visited the doctors with a cold (13%)
  • Over 64’s have been seen the quickest by a doctor, with 85% being seen within 30 minutes
  • Just 24% of 18-34 year olds get seen by a doctor within 30 minutes
  • 70% of 18-34 year olds asked the doctor for antibiotics to treat a cold, compared to just 38% of over 35’s
  • 25-44 year olds are the most likely age group to expect/want to receive anti-biotics from the doctor to treat a cold (60%)
  • The younger generation (18-34) are more likely to swear by old remedies to treat a cold, with 82% choosing treatments such as chicken soup, essential oils and lemon and honey
  • A quarter (25%) of 18-34 year olds get advice from others when they have a cold, in contrast to 38% of 35-54’s and 56% of over 55’s
  • 30% of 18-34 year olds feel they can’t tell their boss the truth when suffering with a cold, whilst just 11% of 35- 64 year olds feel the same
  • Over 35’s are more likely to go to work with a cold (92%), compared to 83% of 18 – 34 year olds

Research methodology

An online survey was conducted by Atomik Research among 2,001 people who have had a cold. The research fieldwork took place between 19th and 23rd October 2018. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides to MRS code.