New Surveys Show U.S. Adults Confused About Symptoms, Treatments For Coughs Due To Cold Or Flu As Season Begins

Thursday, December 17, 2009 Respiratory Disease News
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AUSTIN, Texas, Dec. 16 Despite an increased concern for their health due to fears of the H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu), 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 (AANP). Equally concerning results from a separate survey conducted earlier in the year for the nurse practitioners' group show that many adults with a cough experience disrupted sleep but choose not to stay home because they don't want to miss work or school.

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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 non-smokers aged 25-55 years old who reported having a cough due to cold or flu in the last year; the second survey queried 1,928 adults aged 18 years and older. Respondents from both surveys were those who had not been diagnosed with a chronic respiratory illness, such as asthma, emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

Key Findings

In the more recent survey, nearly 60 percent 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 percent of all survey respondents who had experienced a cough reported treating it with an over-the-counter (OTC) regimen, American adults are largely unsure or inaccurate when identifying which cough product works best for relieving their symptoms. Over 40 percent were not sure at all, and only 15 percent accurately identified cough products that contain an expectorant (used to thin mucus secretions) as best for relieving cold-related coughs, and those that contain a suppressant (used to reduce the urge to cough) 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," says Mary Ellen Roberts, RN, APN, MSN, MA, FAANP, 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 percent 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 percent - 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," said Roberts. "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, Inc.

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is a global leader in custom market research. With a long and rich history in multimodal research, powered by our science and technology, we assist clients in achieving business results. Harris Interactive serves clients globally through our North American, European and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms. For more information, please visit

About the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners

AANP, the oldest, largest and only full-service national professional membership organization for NPs of all specialties, represents the interests of 135,000 NPs in the U.S. Created in 1985 to provide NPs with a unified way to network and to advocate for NP issues across all specialties at the local, state, and national levels, AANP has continually served as a major resource for NPs, their patients and other healthcare consumers, to promote excellence in practice, education and research; to provide legislative leadership to advance health policy; to establish healthcare standards and to advocate for access to high-quality, cost-effective, comprehensive, patient-centered healthcare. For more information, visit To locate an NP in your community, go to

About Reckitt Benckiser

Reckitt Benckiser is a world leader in household, health and personal care. It is a FTSE top 25 company and since 2000 net revenues have doubled and the market cap has quadrupled. Today it is the global No 1 or No 2 in the majority of its fast-growing categories, driven by an exceptional rate of innovation near 40% of revenue comes from innovations launched in the prior 3 years. It has a strong portfolio led by 17 global powerbrands which are: Finish, Lysol, Dettol, Vanish, Woolite, Calgon, Airwick, Harpic, Bang, Mortein, Veet, Nurofen, Clearasil, Strepsils Gaviscon, Mucinex and Frenchs, and they account for over two thirds of its net revenue. Reckitt Benckiser people are at the heart of the company's success. They have an intense drive for progress and action and a desire to outperform wherever they focus, including in CSR where the Company has the most ambitious corporate responsibility programme in the industry through its Carbon 20 initiative. Headquartered in the United Kingdom, the Company employs 23,000 people worldwide, with operations in 60 countries and sales in 180 countries. For more information, visit

Press Contacts: AANP Contact Nancy McMurrey, Director of Communications (512) 276-5906 MCS Contacts Jennifer McGuire and Alanna Jamieson (800) 477-9626

SOURCE American Academy of Nurse Practitioners

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