Episode #5 Cold Preparations
Show Notes: The links shown below are the basis of the podcast episode information and contain information in the podcast and more. Please talk with your healthcare provider and pharmacist for further information and clarification.
- Links to Episode 5
How to treat the common cold at home
Colds are very common. A visit to your health care provider’s office is often not needed, and colds often get better in 3 to 4 days.
A type of germ called a virus causes most colds. There are many types of viruses that can cause a cold. Depending on what virus you have, your symptoms may vary.
Common symptoms of a cold include:
- Fever (100°F [37.7°C] or higher) and chills
- Headache, sore muscles, and fatigue
- Nasal symptoms, such as stuffiness, runny nose, yellow or green snot, and sneezing
- Sore throat
Treating Your Cold
Treating your symptoms will not make your cold go away, but will help you feel better. Antibiotics are almost never needed to treat a common cold.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) help lower fever and relieve muscle aches.
- Do not use aspirin.
- Check the label for the proper dose.
- Call your provider if you need to take these medicines more than 4 times per day or for more than 2 or 3 days.
Over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medicines may help ease symptoms in adults and older children.
- They are not recommended for children under age 6. Talk to your provider before giving your child OTC cold medicine, which can have serious side effects.
- Coughing is your body’s way of getting mucus out of your lungs. So use cough syrups only when your cough becomes too painful.
- Throat lozenges or sprays for your sore throat.
Many cough and cold medicines you buy have more than one medicine inside. Read the labels carefully to make sure you do not take too much of any one medicine. If you take prescription medicines for another health problem, ask your provider which OTC cold medicines are safe for you.
Drink plenty of fluids, get enough sleep, and stay away from secondhand smoke.
Wheezing can be a common symptom of a cold if you have asthma.
- Use your rescue inhaler as prescribed if you are wheezing.
- See your provider immediately if it becomes hard to breathe.
5 Tips: Natural Products for the Flu and Colds: What Does the Science Say?
It’s that time of year again—cold and flu season. Each year, approximately 5 to 20 percent of Americans come down with the flu. Although most recover without incident, flu-related complications typically lead to at least 200,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 60,000 deaths each year. Colds generally do not cause serious complications, but they are among the leading reasons for visiting a doctor and for missing school or work.
Some people try natural products such as herbs or vitamins and minerals to prevent or treat these illnesses. But do they really work? What does the science say?
- Vaccination is the best protection against getting the flu.Starting in 2010, the Federal Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended annual flu vaccination for all people aged 6 months and older.
There is currently no strong scientific evidence that any natural product is useful against the flu.
- Zinc taken orally (by mouth) may help to treat colds, but it can cause side effects and interact with medicines.Zinc is available in two forms—oral zinc (e.g., lozenges, tablets, syrup) and intranasal zinc (e.g., swabs and gels). A 2015 analysis of clinical trials found that oral zinc helps to reduce the length of colds when taken within 24 hours after symptoms start. Intranasal zinc has been linked to a severe side effect (irreversible loss of the sense of smell) and should not be used.
A note about safety: Oral zinc can cause nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Long-term use of zinc, especially in high doses, can cause problems such as copper deficiency. Zinc may interact with drugs, including antibiotics and penicillamine (a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis).
- Vitamin C does not prevent colds and only slightly reduces their length and severity.A 2013 review of scientific literature found that taking vitamin C regularly did not reduce the likelihood of getting a cold but was linked to small improvements in cold symptoms. In studies in which people took vitamin C only after they got a cold, vitamin C did not improve their symptoms.
A note about safety: Vitamin C is generally considered safe; however, high doses can cause digestive disturbances such as diarrhea and nausea.
- Echinacea has not been proven to help prevent or treat colds.Echinacea is an herbal supplement that some people use to treat or prevent colds. Echinacea products vary widely, containing different species, parts, and preparations of the echinacea plant. Reviews of research have found limited evidence that some echinacea preparations may be useful for treating colds in adults, while other preparations did not seem to be helpful. In addition, echinacea has not been shown to reduce the number of colds that adults catch. Only a small amount of research on echinacea has been done in children, and the results of that research are inconsistent.
A note about safety: Few side effects have been reported in clinical trials of echinacea; however, some people may have allergic reactions. In one large clinical trial in children, those who took echinacea had an increased risk of developing rashes.
- The evidence that probiotic supplements may help to prevent colds is weak, and little is known about their long-term safety.Probiotics are a type of “good bacteria,” similar to the microorganisms found in the body, and may be beneficial to health. Probiotics are available as dietary supplements and yogurts, as well as other products such as suppositories and creams. Although a 2015 analysis of research indicated that probiotics might help to prevent upper respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold, the evidence is weak and the results have limitations.
A note about safety: Little is known about the effects of taking probiotics for long periods of time. Most people may be able to use probiotics without experiencing any side effects—or with only mild gastrointestinal side effects such as gas —but there have been some case reports of serious side effects. Probiotics should not be used by people with serious underlying health problems except with close monitoring by a health care provider.
Lifestyle and home remedies
To make yourself as comfortable as possible when you have a cold, try some of these suggestions:
- Drink plenty of fluids.Water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water are good choices. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate you.
- Sip warm liquids.Chicken soup and other warm fluids, such as tea or warm apple juice, can be soothing and can loosen congestion. Honey may help coughs in adults and children who are older than age 1. Try it in hot tea.
- If possible, stay home from work or school if you have a fever or a bad cough or are drowsy after taking medications. This will give you a chance to rest and heal, as well as reduce the chances that you’ll spread your cold to others.
- Adjust your room’s temperature and humidity.Keep your room warm, but not overheated. If the air is dry, a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer can moisten the air and help ease congestion and coughing. Clean your humidifier according to the manufacturer’s directions to prevent the growth of bacteria and molds.
- Soothe a sore throat.A saltwater gargle of 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1250-2500 milligrams) of table salt in 4 to 8 ounces (120 to 240 milliliters) of warm water can help soothe a sore throat. Gargle the solution and then spit it out. Children younger than 6 years are unlikely to be able to gargle properly.
You can also try ice chips, lozenges or hard candy. Use caution when giving lozenges or hard candy to children because they can choke on them. Don’t give lozenges or hard candy to children younger than 6 years.
- Try saline nasal drops or sprays.Saline nasal drops or sprays can keep nasal passages moist and loosen mucus. You can buy these products over-the-counter, and they can help relieve symptoms, even in children.
In infants and younger children, apply saline nasal drops, wait for a short period and then use a suction bulb to draw mucus out of each nostril. Insert the bulb syringe about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (6 to 12 millimeters). For older children, use a saline nasal spray or saline nasal irrigation.
In spite of ongoing studies, the scientific jury is still out on common alternative cold remedies such as vitamin C, echinacea and zinc. Because alternative cold remedies have not been studied in children, they are generally not recommended for use in children. Here’s an update on some popular choices:
It appears that for the most part taking vitamin C won’t help the average person prevent colds. However, some studies have found that taking vitamin C before cold symptoms start may shorten the length of time you have symptoms.
Study results on whether echinacea prevents or shortens colds are mixed. Some studies show no benefit. Others show some reduction in the severity and duration of cold symptoms when taken in the early stages of a cold. Different types of echinacea used in different studies may have contributed to the mixed results.
Echinacea seems to be most effective if you take it when you notice cold symptoms and continue it for seven to 10 days. It appears to be safe for healthy adults, but it can interact with many drugs. Check with your doctor before taking echinacea or any other supplement.
Several studies have suggested that zinc supplements may reduce the length of a cold. But research has turned up mixed results about zinc and colds.
Some studies show that zinc lozenges or syrup reduce the length of a cold by about one day, especially when taken within 24 to 48 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold. Zinc also has potentially harmful side effects.
Intranasal zinc might cause permanent damage to the sense of smell. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning against using zinc-containing nasal cold remedies because they are associated with a long-lasting or permanent loss of smell.
Talk to your doctor before considering the use of zinc to prevent or reduce the length of colds.