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Respiratory Problems, Age 12 and Older (cont.)

Check Your Symptoms

Home Treatment

Home treatment can help you feel more comfortable when you have mild to moderate respiratory symptoms.

  • Prevent dehydration. Hot fluids, such as tea or soup, may help relieve congestion in your nose and throat. If you have a productive cough, fluids may help thin the mucus in your lungs so your cough can clear it out.
  • Get extra rest; let your symptoms be your guide. If you have a cold, you may be able to stick to your usual routine and just get some extra sleep.
  • Let yourself cough if you have a cough that brings up mucus from the lungs. It can help prevent bacterial infections. People who have chronic bronchitis or emphysema need to cough to help clear mucus from their lungs.
  • For a sore throat, gargle at least once each hour with warm salt water [1 tsp (5 g) of salt in 8 fl oz (240 mL) of water] to reduce swelling and discomfort. For more information, see the topic Sore Throat and Other Throat Problems.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Use only water in the humidifier.

Keep in mind the following guidelines for taking nonprescription medicine for your symptoms:

  • Use decongestant nasal sprays sparingly and for only 3 days or less. Continued use may lead to a rebound effect, which causes the mucous membranes to become more swollen than they were before you started using the spray. With the right recipe, you can make saline nose drops at home that will not cause a rebound effect.
  • Nonprescription medicines may not work very well for respiratory problems. And some of these medicines can cause problems if you use too much of them. It is important to use medicines correctly and to keep them out of the reach of children to prevent accidental use. Check with the doctor before giving these medicines to children.
  • If you have a dry, hacking cough that does not bring up any sputum, ask your doctor about an effective cough suppressant medicine. For more information, see the topic Coughs, Age 12 and Older.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all directions on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose.
  • Do not take a medicine if you have had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • If you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take it.
  • If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.

Alternative medicines or supplements

Many people use alternative medicines or supplements to prevent colds or to shorten their cold symptoms. Before using any treatment for your cold symptoms, it is important to consider the risks and benefits of the treatment. For more information, see the topic Complementary Medicine. Some of the common alternative medicines or supplements used are:

  • Echinacea. Study results differ about whether echinacea can keep you from getting a cold or can help you get better faster. Echinacea can cause severe allergic reactions in some people with a history of asthma, allergies, hay fever, or eczema.
  • Vitamin C. Long-term daily use of vitamin C in large doses does not appear to keep you from getting a cold or help you get better faster. There may be a slight reduction in the length of time cold symptoms last when high doses are taken. Additional studies must be done to determine how much vitamin C is needed to reduce the length of time cold symptoms are present.
  • Zinc. Using a product containing zinc may help shorten the length of your cold by up to a day.1 But you have to take the zinc as soon as you have any cold symptoms. In some cases, zinc products that you spray or place into your nose can cause permanent loss of the sense of smell.2

If you decide to use an alternative medicine or supplement, follow these precautions:

  • As with all conventional medicines and supplements, it is important to follow the directions on the label.
  • Do not exceed the maximum recommended dose.
  • If you are or could be pregnant, talk with your doctor before taking any medicine or supplement.
  • If you have another health problem or take prescription medicines, talk with your doctor before taking an alternative medicine or supplement.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Increasing difficulty breathing develops.
  • Wheezing develops.
  • New chest pain develops.
  • Symptoms last longer than 2 weeks.
  • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
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