Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
If a cold occurs during pregnancy, women should check with their OB/GYN doctors before they attempt self-care at home that involves any over-the-counter medications.
To date, no specific cure has been found for the group of viruses that cause the common cold. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses, and are of no use in treating a cold.
It seems unlikely that a single antiviral medication will be discovered in the near future that can target the over 200 different cold viruses. That is true in part because the viruses genetically change (mutate) each season just enough to prevent the development of a specific treatment for that virus.
The good news is that people can take several steps to alleviate the symptoms once they have contracted a virus:
Congestion: Drink plenty of fluids to help break up congestion and
may help keep mucus from becoming too thick. Drinking water will prevent
dehydration and keep the throat moist. Some clinicians recommend that people
with colds should drink at least eight to 10 (8-ounce) cups of water daily.
might include water, sports drinks, herbal teas, fruit drinks, ginger ale, and
Cola, coffee, and other drinks with caffeine often work to increase
urine output when the goal is to increase fluids in the body system;
consequently, such fluids may be counterproductive.
Inhaled steam (from a safe distance so scalding of skin or mucus membranes
is avoided) may ease congestion and drippy nose; the following are a few
suggestions how to do this safely.
Put a pot or teakettle on a trivet on a
table and drape a towel around the steam and over the head.
A humidifier can
increase humidity in a room and is useful to use during the winter when heating
dries out the air and a person's mucus membranes.
Moisture from a hot shower
with the door closed, a saline nasal spray, or sitting close to a room
humidifier may be as useful as any of the above.
Fever and pain: Medications such as acetaminophen
(Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve) often help decrease fever, sore throat pain, and relieve body aches.
High fever usually is not associated with the common cold and may be indicative of "the flu" -- a more severe illness caused by an influenza virus. Report to your doctor any temperature greater than 102 F.
Never give a child aspirin or medications containing aspirin. In children younger than 12 years, aspirin has been associated with Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal liver disorder.
Cough: The cough is a reflex that occurs when the airway passages are irritated. Cough preparations are usually divided into
two main categories:
Suppressants: These act by blocking your cough reflex. As a general rule, use a suppressant for a dry, hacking cough. The agent usually found in over-the-counter cough suppressants is dextromethorphan (Benylin, Pertussin CS or DM, Robitussin Maximum Strength, Vicks 44 Cough Relief).
Expectorants: A cough associated with excessive mucus production, or phlegm, warrants use of an expectorant. Guaifenesin (Mucinex, Organidin) is the most common active ingredient in over-the-counter expectorants (such as Anti-Tuss, Fenesin, Robitussin, Sinumist-SR, Mucenix). It is also used for nasal decongestion (see below).
Lozenges and topical sprays can provide relief from sore throat pain. In particular, lozenges containing zinc may relieve many cold symptoms better than other types of throat lozenges. The benefits of zinc are not proven, however, and it can cause stomach upset. It also has been linked to loss of the sense of smell.
A warm saltwater gargle can relieve a scratchy throat.
Nasal congestion: Nasal decongestants help relieve clogged nasal and sinus passages caused by excessive and thickened mucus secretion. There are several general types of decongestants and other medications available; some medications may combine some of these drugs:
Oral medications come in either pill or liquid form and act by shrinking engorged blood vessels in the nasal and sinus passages. They work well because the medication is distributed in the bloodstream. Oral decongestants often are associated with stimulant side effects such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and insomnia. A commonly used over-the-counter oral decongestant is pseudoephedrine (Actifed, Sudafed, Triaminic), but people with certain health conditions such as
Parkinson's disease, high blood pressure, or prostate disease should avoid its use.
Nasal spray decongestants act similarly to oral decongestants but have the advantage of acting only in the area applied, usually without the stimulant side effects. The most common active ingredient in nasal sprays is
oxymetazoline (Afrin, Dristan nasal spray, Neo-Synephrine, Vicks Sinex).
A side effect of excessive use of nasal decongestants is dependency (rhinitis medicamentosa). Additionally, a "rebound" effect may occur in which nasal symptoms recur after a person abruptly stops the medication. Use these no longer than the package instructions indicate
-- usually three days.
An expectorant, guaifenesin, is used to thin out bronchial secretions, including mucus. This allows the patient to more easily clear their airways that may become blocked with secretions and mucus thus making blowing the nose more effective in clearing secretions. It also functions as a cough suppressant.