The common cold can be caused by any of more than 200 viruses. These viruses attack and multiply in cells that line the nose and throat. Colds are most commonly spread hand to hand. For example, if you shake, touch or hold the hand of an infected person and then touch your eyes or nose, you are likely to infect yourself with the virus. You can also catch a cold if you touch your eyes or nose after touching a hard surface--such as a telephone or doorknob--shortly after an infected person touched it. Just because you are exposed does not necessarily mean you will become infected. It depends on your immune system and history of previous exposure to the virus.
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Rest more and avoid your usual exercise regimen until the cold has resolved. Drink at least eight ounces of liquids every two hours to help soothe the throat and relieve nasal congestion If a fever is present, more fluids are needed to replenish those lost due to the elevation in body temperature. Refrain from smoking. Smoking irritates inflamed nasal passages and paralyzes the cilia which clear mucus from the lungs. Do not take "left over," or old, or your roommate’s antibiotics. Do not drink alcohol because it decreases your resistance and may interact with medications.
Eat a well-balanced diet which includes fruits, vegetables, and grains.
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The following products may be purchased at any pharmacy. It is safe to take any of the mentioned medications in combination with each other to manage the symptoms listed.
Pseudo-ephedrine (i.e., Sudafed) Runny nose and congestion may be relieved by decongestants, but these medications can cause sleeplessness and decreased appetite.
Salt water nasal sprays (i.e. NaSal or Ocean) may ease nasal congestion and make mucus less thick. Do not use medicated nose sprays (like Afrin) without health-care provider direction because excessive use can cause dependence and may make congestion worse.
A cool mist humidifier (not steam which can burn) or a hot shower may help to moisten nasal passages and clear mucus. Humidifiers are a good, low-cost investment during the dry Maryland Eastern Shore winters.
A cough is a protective reflex and is not bad per se. However, cough suppressants containing dextromethorphan may be used if a cough is interfering with sleep or work.
Phenol Lozenges and sprays containing phenol are particularly effective as pain relievers for sore throat. Gargling with warm salt water (one tsp. salt in one cup of hot water) 3-4 times a day may also help ease sore throat pain by helping to reduce swelling of the tonsils.
Acetaminophen, Aspirin, Ibuprofen. It will be helpful for you to get on a regular schedule of pain reliever. For example, take one ibuprofen or two regular strength acetaminophen tablets every four to six hours. Be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle and do not exceed the daily limit. If this is not effective in controlling your fever/pain, you may alternate acetaminophen and ibuprofen every two hours. If you are under the age of 19 do not use aspirin.
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You can use multi-symptom cold remedies but they are expensive and contain ingredients you may not need and ingredient doses which may be too low to be effective. Antihistamines are not recommended as they may make you drowsy and have an undesirable drying effect on mucus membranes.
If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, glaucoma, heart disease, thyroid disease, any other chronic medical problem, or suspect you are pregnant, consult your physician before taking any medication. Carefully follow any instructions that accompany your medication.
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Echinacea - Echinacea has been shown to boost the immune system, hinder colds and flu, fight bacterial and viral infections, and lower fever. Echinacea contains complex sugar molecules that stimulate the cells of the immune system, including white blood cells. It also supports the production of interferon, an
important part of the immune response to viral infections that cause colds and flu. Echinacea can be taken in several ways, the most popular being tea, extract (tincture), and capsules. If you are using Echinacea to prevent colds, you need to take it at the first sign of a cold. Don’t wait until your nose is running and your cough has settled in. Some professionals believe that Echinacea worsens the effects of auto-immune disorders. Until sufficient evidence emerges, Echinacea should not be used by those suffering from auto-immune diseases.
Licorice - Licorice is used to treat sore throats and cough. This herb is very sweet due to its high content of glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin is responsible for most of licorice’s medicinal properties, including its ability to soothe throat tissue. Licorice is effective when taken as a syrup or throat lozenge. People with kidney or heart problems or a history of high blood pressure should avoid regular use of licorice as it may cause salt and water retention.
Elderberry - Elderberry is commonly used to treat the runny nose and sore throat associated with the common cold. Elderberry works by inducing sweating and stimulating circulation. It also has cough suppressant effects. Elderberry can be taken in several ways, the most popular being tea, extract (tincture), and capsules.
Vitamin C - Contrary to popular belief, vitamin C doesn’t prevent you from getting a cold. Studies have shown, however, that it reduces the duration of a cold and the severity of symptoms by an average of 23%. Two to four grams a day during the cold episode seem to be most effective without causing diarrhea. Doses should not exceed six grams a day or rebound scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) can occur when mega doses of vitamin C are discontinued.
Zinc Gluconate - Zinc gluconate lozenges have been found helpful in reducing the duration of cold symptoms, particularly when started within the first 24 hours of cold onset. The most common complaints/side effects include bad taste, mouth irritation, and nausea.
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Call if you have tried the self-care measures discussed above and your symptoms persist or worsen. Specific warning signs and symptoms which may indicate the need for more prompt evaluation include:
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