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How to Treat Symptoms of a Cold

Viruses, not bacteria, cause colds. So antibiotics, which kill bacteria, won't help. The best advice for a cold is to get plenty of rest and stay home so you don't pass your germs to anyone else. While you're resting, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. To avoid spreading germs, wash your hands often and disinfect surfaces.

You can help relieve some symptoms with over-the-counter medicines. Decongestants can help unclog a stuffy nose and reduce sinus pressure. They are available as pills, liquids, and nasal sprays.

Be careful not to use decongestant nasal sprays for more than three consecutive days, because they can lead to rebound congestion. You should ask your doctor before taking either oral or nasal spray decongestants if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, or difficulty urinating because of an enlarged prostate.

Side effects of oral decongestants may include nervousness or sleeplessness. Side effects of nasal spray decongestants may include: burning or stinging in the nose, sneezing, or an increase in nasal discharge. Be sure to read and follow the instructions on the label.

For aches, pains, and fever, over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen (Panadol, Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, Nuprin), and naproxen sodium (Aleve), may help. Be sure to follow the directions on the label and don’t take more than the recommended dose. Also be aware that many multi-symptom cold medicines contain pain relievers. Not reading the label and inadvertently taking a pain reliever with a multi-symptom cold medicine that contains the same pain reliever ingredient could raise your risk for accidental overdose.

Treatment for Allergies

Allergies are a reaction to substances such as ragweed, pollen, mold, and pet dander, which your immune system mistakenly views as harmful invaders and attacks. As part of this response, your body releases a chemical called histamine, which is what makes your nose run and eyes itch.

If you think you're dealing with allergies, talk to your doctor and discuss your options for treatment. If you can avoid your allergic triggers, you can reduce at least some of your symptoms.

Over-the-counter antihistamines block the action of histamine, which can help relieve sneezing, watery and itchy eyes, and a runny or itchy nose.

The main side effect of many over-the-counter oral antihistamines is drowsiness. You should avoid alcoholic drinks when taking these medications and be careful when driving, using machines, or doing anything that could be dangerous if you are not alert. Be sure to carefully follow the label directions for all over-the-counter medicines.

Your doctor may also recommend using a decongestant, or prescribe a nasal steroid spray that can help reduce nasal congestion, sneezing, and a drippy nose. Two steroid sprays, Nasacort and Flonase, are available over the counter.

You may also want to talk to your doctor about getting allergy shots (allergy immunotherapy). You may have to get these shots regularly for about three to five years, but they can provide better long-term allergy relief.

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