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Cold Medicine and Treatment: When? What? How?

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#8: How effective are natural cold remedies like zinc, echinacea, and vitamin C?

Some early studies suggested that cold treatments such as zinc may help cut a cold's severity and duration. But other studies show that zinc is no more effective than placebo. Also, several zinc nasal sprays have been linked to a permanent loss of smell leading to a warning from the FDA. The side effects from zinc may outweigh any possible benefits

For in-depth information see, WebMD's article on Zinc for Colds: Lozenges & Nasal Sprays.

Studies on echinacea have been mixed. Two recent ones funded by NCCAM show that it is not effective in treating colds while others show some benefit.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Echinacea for the Common Cold.

As for vitamin C's effects, recent research has found no evidence that vitamin C prevents colds except in certain populations. It did seem to help prevent colds in people who were doing vigorous exercise in extreme environments . However, there is some evidence that suggests vitamin C may shorten how long you suffer from a cold. One large study found that people who took a vitamin C megadose -- 8 grams on the first day of a cold -- shortened the duration of their cold

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Vitamin C for the Common Cold.

To prevent colds the natural way, it's best to make sure you've got a well-nourished immune system. Experts say a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help you ward off infections like colds and flu. 

For optimal health and immune functioning, you should eat the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of the antioxidant vitamins and minerals. That’s the amount of a vitamin or nutrient that you need to stay healthy and avoid a deficiency.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Starve a Cold, Feed a Fever?

Regular exercise -- aerobics and walking -- can also boost the immune system. People who exercise can still catch a virus, but they may have less severe symptoms. They may recover more quickly compared with less healthy people. But what about exercising when you have a cold? Is it safe?

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Exercise When You Have a Cold.

#9: Are antibiotics effective for the common cold?

Antibiotics play no role in treating the common cold. Antibiotics only work against illnesses caused by bacteria, and colds are caused by viruses. Using antibiotics when they are not necessary has led to the growth of several strains of common bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics (including one that commonly causes ear infections in children). For these and other reasons, it is important to limit the use of antibiotics to situations in which they are necessary.

Sometimes, an infection with bacteria can follow the cold virus. For example, you might get a sinus infection that lingers days after the cold is over. Bacterial infections may be treated with antibiotics.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Antibiotics and Colds.

WebMD Medical Reference

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