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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Hand Washing, Zinc May Ward Off Colds: Review

Meanwhile, antihistamines, decongestants, pain relievers might help treat them, researcher reports


Many other old favorite treatments fell short, Allan found. Vapor rub was linked with burning of skin, eyes and nose. No clear benefit was found for nasal irrigation, humidified air, echinacea, Chinese medicinal herbs, ginseng or vitamin C. Intranasal zinc spray should not be used, Allan said. It has no clear benefit and could lead to loss of smell.

Even without evidence of benefit, Allan said many of his patients swear by the remedies that have helped them in the past. As long as they present no harms, he tells them to go ahead.

"People have individual reactions to medicines that are not predictable," he said. "There is also, of course, the placebo effect -- you think it's going to work [and you feel better]."

The finding that hand washing is the best preventive rings true, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and executive vice president of Mercy Medical Center, in Rockville Centre, N.Y.

Most treatments for the common cold, Glatt agreed, have minimal benefits. Whatever cold remedy is chosen, he added a caveat: "If you have an underlying disease, see a doctor to be sure there are no complications."

For example, anyone with heart or lung disease should be aware a cold may impact them more strongly than others. "Those types of patients should check in with their doctor," Glatt said.

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