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Cold Medicine and Treatment: When? What? How?

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#3: How often can I use nasal sprays for congestion?

Nasal decongestants work fast to open breathing passages. But if you use them for more than three days in a row, you may suffer a "rebound effect" and end up more congested than you were at the start. Insomnia, restlessness, and difficulty urinating can be side effects.

Some doctors suggest using a saline spray instead of a medicated spray. Saline sprays work to loosen mucus. They work more slowly, but they cause no rebound effect.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Nasal Sprays for Cold Relief.

#4: What's the deal with cough syrup and medicine?

Believe it or not, not all doctors agree about treating a cough. Some don't even think cough medicines are that effective. There are three types of commonly used over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. These include cough suppressants, oral expectorants, and topical (externally applied) drugs. They can be used to either suppress a cough or help loosen thick mucus to help you cough it up. When that's not enough, your doctor may prescribe a strong prescription cough medicine.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Cough Syrup and Medicine.

#5: What cold medicine should I take for fever and aches?

Fever may be a good thing. It helps the body fight off infection by suppressing the growth of bacteria and viruses and activating the immune system. Doctors no longer recommend suppressing fever for most people, except perhaps for the very young, the very old, and those with certain medical conditions such as heart disease or lung disease.

However, if you are uncomfortable then it's fine to take medications. Young people (including those in their early 20s) should avoid aspirin. Acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) or the numerous other medicines like ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) are your best choices. Each medication has its own risks, so check with your doctor or pharmacist as to which may be best for you. Be careful not to overdose! These drugs are often mixed in with other cough and cold and flu remedies you may also be taking. Your pharmacist can help you make the right choice.

If you have severe body aches or a fever over 102 degrees, you may have the flu. Call your doctor to see if you would benefit from flu medicine or if something else might be causing your symptoms.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Relief for Cold Aches and Pains.

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