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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Cold or Flu?

Your survival guide for the sniffly, sneezy, achy, queasy season.

Is It a Cold or the Flu? continued...


Your Medicine Cabinet
Which over-the-counter products are right for you? That depends on your symptoms. Read the labels and look for ingredients that will best ease your discomfort. Important: Talk with your doctor about possible drug interactions if you're taking prescription medications for blood pressure, a heart-related condition, or diabetes.

Relieving Pain and Fever
Avoid multisymptom products. Instead, pick one that matches your specific symptoms. For fever, aches and pains, sinus pressure, and sore throat, look for cold remedies with acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin)-but remember, doctors no longer believe in suppressing low-grade fever (less than 101.5 F) except in very young and very old people, or in people with heart or lung disease. Kids (18 and younger) should never take aspirin because of the possibility of Reye's syndrome.

Clearing Congestion
If your nose or sinuses are congested, then you may need a decongestant such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed). Decongestants make breathing easier by shrinking swollen mucous membranes in the nose, allowing air to pass through.

Breathing Easy
Decongestant nasal sprays containing phenyl-ephrine (such as Neo-Synephrine) are effective for opening nasal passages. But using medicated nasal sprays for more than three days in a row can cause a "rebound effect"-you may end up more congested than you were at the start. Saline sprays and saline nose drops are not decongestants but help keep nasal tissues moist so the tissues can filter air. They can be used as often as needed.

Calming a Cough
Unless a cough is very bothersome, you don't need to suppress it. For minor coughs, water and fruit juices soothe the throat, and moisten and thin mucus so it can be coughed up more easily. Make a simple, soothing cough syrup at home by mixing 1 part lemon juice with 2 parts honey. Use as often as needed. This is fine for children older than 1. Expectorants containing guaifenesin are a type of cough medicine that helps break up mucus, making it easier to cough up.

Soothing a Sore Throat
Medicated lozenges and gargles can help, but don't use them for more than a few days because they can mask signs of strep throat, a bacterial infection that should be treated with an antibiotic. Gargling with salt water can relieve a sore throat. And gargling with plain water may help prevent colds: Researchers in Japan found that people who gargled with water several times a day were more than one-third less likely to catch a cold.

Kids: Colds & Flu

Always check with your pediatrician before giving your baby or young child any over-the-counter medication.

Fever Reducers
Parents can be fever-phobes. But low-grade fever (100.4 F to 101.5 F) is not dangerous and may help kill the virus more quickly. High fever (102 F or 103 F) is dangerous. A prolonged fever or change in symptoms means you should get in touch with your pediatrician. A viral infection such as the flu can develop into pneumonia or make a child more susceptible to a bacterial infection. To reduce a high fever, call your doctor, who may advise giving ibuprofen (such as Advil) or acetaminophen (such as Tylenol). Never give a child aspirin for fever because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.

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