The Common Cold. Ugh. We all dread this bane of human existence. Just thinking about it brings up images of dirty tissues, red noses, and Nyquil. This simple little viral infection generates more visits to the doctor’s office than probably anything else! And Tis’ the Season! So, I thought I would share with you all a few tips and tricks to manage your symptoms at home, and hopefully you can save yourself a trip to the doctor. I’ll also let you know when you need to go ahead and call; there are some symptoms that should not be overlooked!
The Common Cold is a generic term for an Upper Respiratory Infection. This can be caused by many different viruses. Viruses are pesky, because for the most part we don’t have any cure for them. This is why vaccines are so important: because preventing viral infections is way better than trying to treat them. However, because the Common Cold is caused by so many different viruses, it’s unlikely that a vaccine will ever be generated. So – what to do?
First, it’s important to try to prevent yourself from getting a cold. In the fall and winter months, wash your hands frequently. If you are out and about, (for example in the grocery store) use hand sanitizer. The viruses that cause a cold are transmitted through the air when people cough or sneeze, but can also be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces like grocery cart handles or doorknobs. So do your best to keep your hands clean! Keeping your body healthy and your immune system strong is also important. Get some good sleep, try to eat well (lots of fruits and veggies) and get some exercise and fresh air. If you have developed a cold, do all of us a favor and stay home if you can! If you are coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose!
If, despite all of your best efforts, you develop a cold, don’t panic. You can feel absolutely lousy with a cold. Fevers, chills, body aches, bad sore throat, nasal congestion, headaches, sinus pressure, and coughing are all common with a cold. The worst of these symptoms are typically in the first few days, and in the majority of cases the cold symptoms will be resolved within 7-10 days. The treatment during this time frame is symptom based. Antibiotics will NOT help!! Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, which are completely different. They will NOT help your body recover more quickly from a cold.
So, what to do for your cold symptoms? First and foremost, REST! We all tend to try to “work through” illnesses like this, but a day of rest will do more for a speedy recovery than anything else. Drink lots of fluids. Warm fluids in particular are soothing like tea and soup. Steam is very helpful for loosening congestion, so get in a warm shower a couple of times per day. Using a humidifier at night can help as well. Drinking tea with honey and lemon is also very helpful. Honey has been shown to have anti-viral properties and is very soothing for throat pain (don’t give honey to infants under a year old). In terms of medications, I recommend decongestants like Sudafed or Mucinex D (you will need to ask for these at the pharmacy counter), and Advil or Tylenol for fevers and body aches. Delsym is an over-the-counter cough medication that is quite effective. I generally recommend avoiding medications like Nyquil and other similar preparations because they will often have a combination of 3-5 medications. You don’t need all of that. Simple is better when it comes to symptom control.
When should you call your doctor? If you have been sick for more than 10 days, it’s time to call. Sometimes, you can develop a bacterial infection on top of a cold, and if you’re not getting better, you need to be checked. If you have very high persistent fever, (> 102 for more than 2 days) you should call. If you have wheezing or shortness of breath along with your cough, you need to be seen. If you have a bad sore throat with white patches visible, you may want to be seen. Not always, but this can be a sign of strep throat and it can’t hurt to have it checked. And if you have any other symptoms that just seem concerning, give your doctor a call! It’s always better to err on the side of caution.
Bottom line, colds are rough, but generally a combination of simple home remedies will do the trick! Do you have any great home remedies to share? We’d love to hear them!
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