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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

I’ve Got a Cold: What Can I Do?

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What's the best treatment for a cold?

There is no cure for the common cold. The most important thing you can do is drink a lot of fluids to keep your body hydrated. This will help prevent another infection from setting in. Avoid drinks like coffee, tea, and colas with caffeine. They may rob your system of fluids. As for eating, follow your appetite. If you're not really hungry, try eating simple foods like white rice or broth.

Chicken soup is comforting, plus the steam helps break up nasal congestion. Ginger seems to settle an upset stomach. A hot toddy may help you sleep, but beware of mixing alcohol with other cold remedies.

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Over-the-counter cold medicines can offer relief from aches and fever. However, doctors no longer believe in suppressing low-grade fever except in very young and very old people, or people with certain medical conditions such as heart or lung disease. Low-grade fever helps the body fight off infection by suppressing the growth of viruses or bacteria and by activating the immune system.

  • Aspirin. Young people and children should not take aspirin because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.
  • Decongestants can help make breathing easier by shrinking swollen mucous membranes in the nose. Use for no more than two or three days.
  • Saline nasal sprays can also open breathing passages and may be used freely.
  • Cough preparations are not hugely effective. For minor coughs, water and fruit juices probably help the most. The FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under age 4.
  • Gargling with salt water can help relieve a sore throat.

How effective are natural remedies like zinc, echinacea, and vitamin C?

Taking zinc, either as a syrup or lozenge, through the first few days of a cold may shorten the misery of an upper respiratory infection, according to a review of 15 studies on the subject. The review also found that zinc also appeared to prevent colds in people who used it over the course of about five months.

Some studies show that zinc nasal sprays help cut a cold's severity and duration. The theory? Zinc sprays may coat the cold virus and prevent it from attaching to nasal cells where they enter the body. But other studies show that zinc is no more effective than placebo. Recent, well-done studies on echinacea show that it is not effective in preventing colds. However, in one study, 120 people with cold-like symptoms took 20 drops of echinacea every two hours for 10 days and had briefer colds than others.

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