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Pain Relievers

To help lower a fever and get some relief for uncomfortable body aches, be sure to have acetaminophen, naproxen, or ibuprofen on hand. However, if you have hypertension, kidney disease, or diabetes, you should be careful using NSAIDs. Aspirin also works, but don’t give it to kids. Aspirin is linked to a rare but life-threatening condition called Reye’s syndrome in children.

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Other Meds

Decongestant nose sprays or drops with phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine as the active ingredient take down swelling in your nose and help you breathe better. Decongestant balms you rub on your chest can also help open airways. Cough medicines or drops with dextromethorphan help with a dry cough, while those with guaifenesin can soothe a wet cough.

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hand sanitizer
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Hand Sanitizer

For the best germ-killing power, wash your hands with soap and water whenever you can. But it’s a good idea to have a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol around, too. Keep it by the bed when you’re sick, and use it after you cover a cough or blow your nose. Caregivers can grab a squirt, too, after checking a temperature or feeling a forehead.

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Coughs and runny noses can be features of colds, flu, and COVID-19. Keep tissues on hand so you can contain those germs that you’re hacking and sneezing. Use a tissue to cover coughs and sneezes. Throw tissues away promptly, and then wash or disinfect your hands.

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man looking at thermometer
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Even if you’re not feeling feverish, it’s a good idea to track your temperature during an illness, so you have a good read on your body. You also need a thermometer in case your temperature spikes and you need to report it to a doctor.

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It’s best to keep your distance from other people when you have a virus, but if you share a household or need to go to the doctor’s office, a mask that covers your nose and mouth is a must for keeping your germs to yourself.

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disinfecting counter
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Disinfectant Spray

The common cold, the flu, and COVID-19 are all airborne illnesses. That means they travel through droplets from your nose and mouth. When you’re sick, wipe down areas you touch so you lower the chances of passing the virus on to others.

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mature man drinking tea
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Lots to Drink

Your body loses a lot of fluids when you’re sick because of fever sweats, a runny nose, and coughing. Water is good, but be sure to stock up on other kinds of drinks, too. Broth, warm tea, or drinks with electrolytes can all be good for hydration.

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A cool-mist humidifier blows tiny droplets of water into the air to help keep your airways moist and ease stuffiness and dry coughing. Viruses are less likely to survive in humid air than in dry air, so it may help lessen the spread of your sickness, too.

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Zinc Lozenges

While zinc lozenges won’t treat symptoms, studies show that if you start popping them at the first sign of cold or flu symptoms, they can cut the length of your illness by up to 40%.

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Pulse Oximeter

A pulse oximeter is a small device that clips to your finger and reads how much oxygen is getting to your red blood cells. You don’t need one for a cold or the flu. But if you’re COVID-19-positive and having symptoms, it could help you keep tabs on how you’re doing. Normal oxygen levels are between 95% and 97%. Readings lower than that mean it’s time to call a doctor.

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emergency sign
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When to Go to Urgent Care

It’s important to know when your home remedies aren’t enough anymore. See a doctor right away if you or a loved one have trouble breathing, chest pain, confusion, trouble waking up, seizures, severe muscle pain, fever over 103 F, or aren’t peeing.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 11/18/2022 Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on November 18, 2022




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UChicagoMedicine: “Which over-the-counter medications are best for coronavirus symptoms?”

Mayo Clinic: “Self-care for the flu,” “Dehydration,” “Fever.”

FamilyDoctor.org: “Decongestants: OTC Relief for Congestion.”

UC Health: “A rundown of coronavirus drugs for home and hospital.”

CDC: “Coronavirus (COVID-19): What to Do If You Are Sick,” “Cold vs. Flu,” “Symptoms of Coronavirus,” “Flu: What To Do If You Get Sick.”

Memorial Hermann Foundation: “COVID-19 Essentials: Your At-Home Care Kit.”

University of Alabama at Birmingham: “How to keep flu germs from spreading in your home.”
PNAS: “Absolute humidity modulates influenza survival, transmission, and seasonality.”

JRSM Open: “Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage.”

Yale Medicine: “Should You Really Have a Pulse Oximeter at Home?”

Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on November 18, 2022

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.