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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Cold and Flu IQ

Our guide to the most common misconceptions about what causes colds and flu's -- and how to prevent and treat them.

Do Antibiotics Cure Colds?

Antibiotics are not the answer to the common cold. These drugs target bacteria; they cannot kill the viruses that cause colds. In fact, they can do harm. The more you take antibiotics, the more your body develops natural resistances, making them less effective when you really need their healing power. Tallman says it's not uncommon to see parents in the emergency room who want antibiotics for their child's cold or flu. That's a mistake. "Antibiotics are a no-no," says Tallman. "They are not effective with colds."

Will I Get the Flu from a Flu Shot?

The flu vaccine does not cause the flu. "You won't get sick from it," Tallman says. However, it is possible that some people who get vaccinated for the flu develop flu-like symptoms, such as aches or a fever -- but only for a day or so. That's a small price to pay for a vaccine that prevents an average of five days of fever, headaches, sore throat, and other symptoms caused by actual flu, which can also cause complications such as pneumonia. Those who are most vulnerable to such complications include anyone over the age of 65, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing conditions like asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and weakened immune systems.

Should I Starve a Cold?

Starve a cold and feed a fever? Or is it the other way around? The answer: neither. Tallman's not sure where this erroneous piece of advice originated, but he is sure of this: What you eat when you have a virus makes no difference in the length or severity of your cold. He does recommend you drink a lot of fluids while you are sick to avoid becoming dehydrated. And he refutes a related myth, that drinking milk increases the mucus in your nasal passages. "It has no effect," Tallman says.

Home Cough Remedies

Look to your pantry to calm a cough. Maybe Grandma's shot of whiskey or hot toddy won't help a cough, but you've probably got some items on hand that will. Tallman mentions onion and garlic juice, lemon juice, cloves, and ginger. Coughs that accompany a sore throat and sinus trouble respond well to soothing treatments such as hot tea and honey, he says. "It would be difficult to debunk honey as a cough suppressant. The bottom line is people use whatever they think provides symptomatic relief." (However, never give honey to children younger than age 1.)

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