Most Americans are misinformed about what causes the common cold as well as how and when they should treat it, according to a survey commissioned by Matrixx Initiatives Inc., the maker of Zicam cold remedies.

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Matrixx survey: Americans cling to myths about colds

October 19th, 2010

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Most Americans are misinformed about what causes the common cold as well as how and when they should treat it, according to a survey commissioned by Matrixx Initiatives Inc., the maker of Zicam cold remedies.

Matrixx said Tuesday the national study found that much of the confusion about colds comes from myths that Americans grew up with that have stuck with them throughout their adult lives. Of the 500 U.S. adults polled, 72% believe there's not much they can do about a cold except mask the symptoms and wait it out. One-third of cold sufferers admit that they wait until they feel miserable before taking medications that can help.

And according to a second survey of 500 U.S. pharmacists, this consumer belief is in direct contrast to what most pharmacists believe: 93% of pharmacists report that early treatment of a cold can prevent a trip to the doctor's office, and 84% think consumers often make poor choices about the best treatments for their colds.

Most consumers also harbor myths about what causes a cold and what remedies are effective, the survey found. Though 86% of consumer respondents understand that colds are caused by viruses, 65% incorrectly believe that bacteria can cause a cold, and 53% mistakenly believe a cold can be treated with antibiotics. Consumers also tend to rely on a variety of home remedies — including chicken soup, orange juice and vitamins — even though 64% of consumers polled acknowledge that some of what they learned from their mothers about catching and treating colds is untrue and not based on science.

Meanwhile, pharmacists see a need to better educate consumers and combat cold care myths. The study found that 92% pharmacists think patients have misconceptions about colds and how to best treat and manage them, and 97% of pharmacists feel consumers should seek their recommendations about cold treatments and management more often.

Pharmacists said the top five myths about colds that are most difficult to debunk are the following:

• Antibiotics can kill the germs that cause colds.
• Changes in the weather can cause colds.
• Getting wet and chilled can cause colds.
• Sitting in a draft can cause colds.
• Avoiding changes in temperatures will help prevent colds.

"As cold season approaches, it's important for consumers to understand the benefits of early intervention against a cold and to focus on effective ways to shorten its duration," Dr. Fred Eckel, professor of pharmacy practice and experiential education at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy, said in a statement. "The results of this survey mirror what pharmacists see every day: Our patients still believe many of the myths they grew up with, and they need better information on how to treat their colds."

The surveys also highlighted a discrepancy between consumers and pharmacists about when to prepare for a cold. Ninety-one percent of pharmacists feel the appropriate time to assess and buy over-the-counter medications is before becoming sick or at the first sign of symptoms, but only 24% of consumers report having OTC cold and flu medications on hand for when they become sick.

According to the survey, most pharmacists typically recommend zinc, an active ingredient in Zicam, as an effective way to reduce the duration of a cold, but consumers have yet to catch up. More than half (52%) of pharmacists usually recommend taking zinc products in the early stages of a cold, with only 12% of consumers proactively doing so. The polls  show that consumers are three times as likely to try chicken soup (41%) as a means of stopping the progression of a cold as they are to try zinc (12%).

In addition, 98% of pharmacists surveyed agreed they should be more involved in educating consumers about appropriate cold treatments, and 83% of pharmacists think they should be a primary resource of information about colds and flu. In fact, consumers do see pharmacists as a key source of advice, with 89% of consumer respondents saying they feel comfortable asking pharmacists about OTC cold medicines and remedies.