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How to conquer the common cold


Last updated 1/31/2008 at Noon

If you have a cold, you’re no doubt feeling pretty miserable.

The bad news is there is no cure for a cold. It is a virus and must run its course. There is no miracle cure – no pill, no elixir, no powder.

Colds tend to last between one and two weeks and the only cure is time. But the good news is there are some things one can do to help reduce the symptoms.

Over-the-counter medications can be helpful to treat symptoms so you can feel somewhat normal and get back to daily living. Some natural remedies may also reduce the length of a cold or at least make you feel more like a human being.

Over the counter medications

Antihistamines (such as Benadryl or Claritin) can help with itching, watery eyes, runny noses and that scratchy sore throat.

Decongestants (such as Sudafed or Afrin) will help with a stuffy nose and sinus headaches. Afrin should only be used for three days.

Cough syrup (such as Robitussin DM, Mucinex DM or Delsym) can help if a cough is keeping you up at night. Remember, coughing isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it is the body’s way of preventing the mucus from settling and becoming infected.

Antipyretics (such as Advil or Tylenol) can help with body aches and fever.

Topical anesthetics (such as N’Ice, Chloraseptic and Hurricane Spray) can help with a sore throat.

Natural remedies and cold treatments

Chicken soup: Should you feed a cold and starve a fever? Actually, feed both!

A body needs nutrients to fight off the infection and generate a fever (a fever isn’t always a bad thing – it is the body’s way of fighting the infection by making the environment inhospitable).

Does Mom cook up her famous soup to cure everyone’s illnesses? There has been scientific research to support the chicken soup theory. At the very least, it appears to help open the airways when you breathe in the steam from the warm soup.

Airborne tablets: Airborne is promoted as an immunity booster. Manufacturer’s instructions indicate you should take Airborne a day or two before being exposed to crowded places (such as airplanes and movie theaters).

You may take one tablet every three to four hours, not to exceed three doses in a day. It contains 17 natural ingredients, including echinacea and Vitamin C. Because of the high levels of vitamins in these tablets, forego taking multivitamins when taking Airborne.

The manufacturers of Airborne claim it can boost the immune system and reduce the risk of getting sick.

Zicam cold remedy (gel and nasal swabs): The main ingredient is zinc gluconate. Zinc is a natural mineral that has had varied results in how effective it is in reducing the severity of cold symptoms.

The makers of Zicam claim it is “clinically proven to help you get over your cold three times faster.” There have been reports in the last few years about Zicam possibly causing people to lose their sense of smell when using the nasal spray; however, there does not seem to be any concrete evidence to support this.

Vitamin C: Vitamin C has gone from being very popular for treating colds to being absolutely no benefit.

It was once thought that Vitamin C boosted immunity. However, recent research indicates this is doubtful. Although an important dietary supplement, it has little impact in preventing a cold.

However, many people swear by Vitamin C and start taking increased dosages at the first sign of a cold.

Echinacea: Like Vitamin C, at one time echinacea was once considered a must for colds and the flu. Recent research, however, has shown that there is little to no benefit in taking echinacea for either colds or flu.

However, many people claim echinacea works for them. It is generally considered safe, but side effects may include serious allergic reactions and mild gastrointestinal symptoms.

Consult a doctor before taking any herbal supplements.

General principles

Stay home! You don’t want to feel miserable at work or school with a blocked nose, runny nose, sneezing every ten minutes. This also helps limit the spread of the illness to others.

To stop spreading germs, don’t share food or drinks. Pillowcases should be changed every couple of days while you’re feeling ill and you should use only your own towel. This will limit the chances of spreading the illness.

Drink lots of water or juice. Staying hydrated will reduce many symptoms such as headaches and sore throat.

A good indicator that you’re getting enough fluids is that your urine will be almost clear. Deep yellow urine indicates higher concentrations of waste products.

Hot soups are another good way to take fluids in. Popsicles help to soothe a sore throat and increase fluid intake.

Wash your hands after blowing your noses or coughing. While this won’t make you feel any better, it will reduce the likelihood of spreading the illness.

Take cold medicine only if needed. There is a common belief that symptomatic treatments may prolong the cold (refer back to cough and fever isn’t always a bad thing!). Antibiotics cannot help a cold.

Get plenty of rest and don’t exert yourself – physical stress can prolong a cold. Prop themselves up with an additional pillow if you find that you cough more when lying down.

Take a hot bath or shower; the steam helps to clear up nasal passages. This can also be accomplished with a warm humidifier or standing over a sink with hot water running. If you have long hair, blow dry it to avoid loss of body heat.

Try not to smoke. Tobacco use weakens the immune system and decreases the body’s ability to clear mucus from airways.

Avoid human contact as much as possible. Cold viruses (usually rhinoviruses or coronaviruses) are very contagious and easily transmitted to other people.

Staying home from work or school is the best thing to do. If you must work, limit contact with people, try to stand a few feet away when possible, try not to touch things and wash your hands often.

To soothe a scratchy throat, gargle with warm lightly salted water or use a commercial product.

Boil herbs (such as mint leaves, eucalyptus, thyme and clove), let a towel soak up the water and inhale, or just leave it on your face for a couple of minutes. This will help clear nasal passages. If you suffer from allergies, though, be careful with this one.

Nonalcoholic hot toddy: Boil some water, pour into a mug, add some lemon juice and stir in two teaspoons of honey (or to taste). This can provide some relief to a sore throat and stuffy nose for up to two hours.

Avoid “blowing your nose” frequently. This can lead to middle ear infections. If you must blow your nose, do it with both nostrils open to help decrease excess pressure.

When to go see the doctor

If cold symptoms last more than seven days, consult a doctor immediately, as you may have a more serious condition.

If you develop a fever in excess of 101 degrees, a doctor should be consulted. High fever and chills are an indication of influenza (the flu), a more serious illness.

Those who are pregnant, nursing, immunodeficient, elderly, under the age of 12 or have preexisting conditions that may put them at risk of developing complications should consult their doctors.


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