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Colds - Topic Overview

What can you do for a cold? continued...

Don't take cold medicine that uses several drugs to treat different symptoms. For example, don't take medicine that contains both a decongestant for a stuffy nose and a cough medicine. Treat each symptom on its own.

A nasal decongestant spray can help your stuffy nose, but make sure you don't use it for more than 3 days in a row. You could get a "rebound" effect, which makes the mucous membranes in your nose swell up even more.

Cough preparations can cause problems for people who have certain health problems, such as asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, or an enlarged prostate (BPH). Cough preparations may also interact with sedatives, certain antidepressants, and other medicines. Read the package carefully, or ask your pharmacist or doctor to help you choose. Cough suppressants can stifle breathing. Use them with caution if you are older than 60 or if you have chronic respiratory problems.

Be careful with cold medicines. They may not be safe for young children, so check the label first. If you do give these medicines to a child, always follow the directions about how much to give based on the child’s age and weight. For more information, see Quick Tips: Giving Over-the-Counter Medicines to Children.

When should you call a doctor?

Call your doctor if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have a fever of 104°F (40°C) or higher.
  • You have new symptoms that are not part of a cold, like a stiff neck or shortness of breath.
  • You cough up yellow, green, or bloody mucus.
  • Mucus from your nose is thick like pus or is bloody.
  • You have pain in your face, eyes, or teeth that does not get better with home treatment, or you have a red area on your face or around your eyes.
  • Your cold seemed to be getting better after a few days but is now getting worse with new symptoms.

How can you prevent colds?

There are several things you can do to help prevent colds:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Be extra careful in winter and when you are around people with colds.
  • Keep your hands away from your face. Your nose, eyes, and mouth are the most likely places for germs to enter your body.
  • Eat well, and get plenty of sleep and exercise. This keeps your body strong so it can fight colds.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking makes it easier to get a cold and harder to get rid of one.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 21, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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