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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Understanding Common Cold -- Treatments

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What Are Treatments for the Common Cold?

Since there is no cure for the common cold, treatment has two goals: to make you feel better and to help you fight off the virus.

Lots of rest is the key treating a cold. You may find you need 12 hours of sleep each night, so don't set that alarm. You'll be most comfortable in a warm, humid environment. It's also important to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water and avoiding alcohol and caffeine. This makes mucus flow more freely and helps with congestion.

Understanding the Common Cold

Find out more about the common cold:

Basics

Symptoms

Treatment

Prevention

No specific treatment exists for the virus that is causing your cold, but in treating the symptoms you can find relief. For aches and pains accompanied by a fever of 100.5 degrees or higher, give Tylenol rather than aspirin to avoid the risk of Reye syndrome, a sometimes fatal condition that occurs in children with viral illnesses, especially if they have taken aspirin. If your throat is sore, gargle as often as you like with salt water (1/2 teaspoon salt in 1 cup water).

Think twice before using heavily advertised over-the-counter cold and flu medications, which likely contain drugs for symptoms you don't have and therefore may result in needless overtreatment. The FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold drugs should not be given to children under age 4.

Over-the-counter decongestants containing pseudoephedrine can help dry and clear nasal passages, but only temporarily. Decongestant nasal sprays can help, too, but if they're used for more than three to five days, they may cause a "rebound" effect. This means more mucus and worse congestion. Pseudoephedrine may increase blood pressure and heart rate. Do not take it without first checking with a doctor if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, prostate problems, diabetes, or thyroid problems.

Over-the-counter decongestants containing phenylpropanolamine have been pulled voluntarily from the shelves because they increase the risk of stroke. If you have a drug containing this ingredient, also called PPA, throw it away.

Over-the-counter cough suppressants, such as those containing dextromethorphan, can be helpful if your cough is so severe that it interferes with sleeping or talking. Otherwise, allow yourself to cough as you need to (always covering your mouth as you do), because coughing removes mucus and germs from your throat and lungs.

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