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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Frequently Asked Questions About the Common Cold

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4. What's the best treatment for a cold? continued...

Over-the-counter cold medicines can offer relief from aches and fever. However, doctors no longer believe in suppressing low-grade fever except in very young and very old people, or people with certain medical conditions such as heart or lung disease. Low-grade fever helps the body fight off infection by suppressing the growth of viruses or bacteria and by activating the immune system.

  • Aspirin. Young people and children should not take aspirin because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.
  • Decongestants can help make breathing easier by shrinking swollen mucous membranes in the nose. Do not use nasal decongestants for more than three to five days. Use beyond 3-5 days causes swelling in the nasal passages and aggravates symptoms.
  • Saline nasal sprays can also open breathing passages and may be used freely.
  • Cough preparations are not hugely effective. For minor coughs, water and fruit juices probably help the most. The FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under age 4.
  • Gargling with salt water can help relieve a sore throat.

 

5. How effective are natural remedies like zinc, echinacea, and vitamin C?

Some studies show that zinc nasal sprays help cut a cold's severity and duration. The theory? Zinc sprays may coat the cold virus and prevent it from attaching to nasal cells where they enter the body. But other studies show that zinc may be no more effective than placebo. Because of the risk of a loss of smell, many experts recommend that you avoid zinc nasal sprays completely. Recent, well-done studies on echinacea show that it is not effective in preventing colds. However, in one study, 120 people with cold-like symptoms took 20 drops of echinacea every two hours for 10 days and had briefer colds than others.

As for vitamin C's effects, a recent survey of 65 years' worth of studies found limited benefit. The researchers found no evidence that vitamin C prevents colds. However, they did find evidence that vitamin C may shorten how long you suffer from a cold. One large study found that people who took a vitamin C megadose -- 8 grams on the first day of a cold -- shortened the duration of their colds.

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