AUSTIN, Texas Despite an increased concern for their health due to fears of the H1N1 influenza virus, American adults frequently confuse their symptoms and the treatments appropriate for them when dealing with a cough due to a cold or flu, according to results of a new survey conducted in October for the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners released Wednesday.
Two online surveys — one fielded in January just prior to the emergence of the H1N1 virus, and a second survey fielded in October following the H1N1 virus outbreak — were conducted for the AANP by Harris Interactive. The first survey queried more than 500 nonsmokers ages 25 to 55 years who reported having a cough due to cold or flu in the last year; the second survey queried 1,928 adults ages 18 years and older.
In the more recent survey, nearly 60% of Americans reported they are somewhat or very concerned for their health when near someone who coughs, due to the high number of H1N1 flu cases expected this year.
Although 72% of all survey respondents who had experienced a cough reported treating it with an over-the-counter regimen, American adults are largely unsure or inaccurate when identifying which cough product works best for relieving their symptoms. More than 40% were not sure at all, and only 15% accurately identified cough products that contain an expectorant as best for relieving cold-related coughs, and those that contain a suppressant as best for flu-related coughs.
"We found patients are still confused about cold and flu symptoms and how best to treat them, even though there's been a lot of education about the flu this year," stated Mary Ellen Roberts, nurse practitioner and AANP board member.
More than three-fourths of adults correctly associate the flu with high fever and severe aches and pains. However, less than one-quarter identified a dry, unproductive cough as a symptom of the flu. Conversely, more than 75% of adults correctly associate the common cold with a productive cough, stuffy nose and sneezing, yet only one in 10 respondents reported taking an expectorant product to treat cough due to cold.
"Because coughs associated with the cold and flu differ both in their causes and in their effects, patients need different over-the-counter medications for them," said Roberts. "With a cough due to a cold, patients should treat with an expectorant to clear out mucus. For coughs associated with the flu, patients should usually consider a cough suppressant to treat a dry, hacking cough, as well as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain."
Earlier survey results from January show that 73% — 68 million Americans — experienced disrupted sleep due to a cough in the past year, yet more than two-thirds of the adults who chose not to stay home because of their cough say that they made the choice because they didn't want to miss work or school. Of all symptoms cough sufferers experience; difficulty sleeping was the most commonly reported and correlated most strongly with the severity of the cough, and with the likelihood of seeking professional treatment.
"Cough sufferers need to know that when they don't get their symptoms treated rapidly and properly, they might not only lose effective rest, but there can be far-reaching ramifications on their work or school days," Roberts said. "We frequently see patients continue normal activities regardless of how they feel. While this may be reflective of the current economic situation, patients need to know that this may not be the wisest decision in the long term, and that there are long-acting products that can provide symptomatic relief for up to 12 hours."
Both surveys were sponsored by an unrestricted educational grant from Reckitt Benckiser.