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Frequently Asked Questions About the Common Cold

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.

To prevent colds the natural way, it's best to make sure you've got a well-nourished immune system. Dark greens foods like spinach are loaded with vitamins A and C. Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation. Low-fat yogurt may help stimulate the immune system.

Regular exercise - aerobics and walking - also boosts the immune system. People who exercise may still catch a virus, but they have less severe symptoms. They may recover more quickly.

6. Should I go to the doctor or get an antibiotic?

You usually don't need a doctor or an antibiotic when you have a cold. Colds are caused by viruses. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.

But a cold can turn into a sinus infection. If your sinuses become blocked and cannot drain properly, you can develop inflammation and a bacterial infection. An ear infection may also result from a bout with a cold. Although sinus and ear infections can improve on their own, sometimes you need antibiotics to clear the bacterial infections from your body.

Symptoms of an ear infection include ear pain, fever, and/or a feeling of fullness in the ears.

Symptoms of a sinus infection include a runny or stuffy nose, facial pain and pressure, fever, and headache.

7. Should I stay at home if I have a cold?

You're contagious for the first few days of your cold, so it's best to stay home then. You need to be careful about coughing and sneezing around other people. Also, you will recover quicker if you get some rest.

WebMD Medical Reference

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