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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Tips for Treating the Cold and Flu

What to stock in your survival kit for fighting the cold and flu this winter.
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Sore Throat Soothers

When your throat is scratchy and irritated, medicated cough drops, such as honey-lemon, can be very soothing. "Honey coats the back of your throat," Schachter says, and that coating relieves irritation and can reduce your urge to cough. Just don't overdo it. Cough drops -- even the medicated ones -- can be as sugary as candy. (Never give cough drops to kids under 3 due to the choking risk, and honey itself should not be given to children under 1.)

Any sore throat that lingers or is very painful warrants a call to your doctor. It could be strep throat or another bacterial infection.

Alternative Remedies

A variety of natural remedies have been touted as cold relievers, but do any of them work? The most well known are zinc, echinacea, and vitamin C. While these supplements don't seem to help prevent colds, they might reduce symptoms if taken at the first sign of a cold. However, studies are conflicting.

"[Zinc lozenges] do seem to reduce the symptoms and shorten the duration of a cold," Schachter says. Tallman says there's not enough evidence to support taking extra zinc. "Start taking it as soon as you start feeling symptoms," he says. Zinc lozenges can be taken every 2 hours while awake. Just avoid zinc nasal swabs, which can affect your sense of smell.

Studies show high doses of vitamin C -- up to 2,000 milligrams -- help reduce cold symptoms, but these high doses might cause side effects, such as stomach upset. Schachter says taking 500 milligrams of vitamin C at the onset or for the first few days of a cold can't hurt. As for echinacea, the best evidence exists for supplements containing the Echinacea purpurea species.

Sanitizer Savvy

You'll never need to treat colds and flu if you don't get them in the first place. The easiest way to avoid becoming sick is to wash your hands with good old-fashioned soap and warm water. As a backup, keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your medicine cabinet as well as in your purse or pocket to use throughout the day.

All sanitizers work about the same, but you might not like what they do to your hands. "A lot of the hand sanitizers are alcohol-based," says Tallman. "They can dry out the skin over a period of time." If dryness is a problem, try a sanitizer with added softening ingredients, such as a moisturizer or aloe. 

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