We hear a lot about the risks and symptoms of flu this time of year, but many more people will encounter an illness this winter that’s pervasive and irritating: the common cold.
Colds typically last for three to seven days, even though symptoms can last up to two weeks. They can be miserable, but you can get through your cold with ease if you know what to do.
Know Your Cold
Since colds and flu have many of the same symptoms, it can be easy to mistake the two.
Cold symptoms are milder than flu symptoms. A flu screening at a doctor’s office or urgent care can determine if your symptoms are caused by a cold or the flu.
Cold symptoms include:
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Headaches and fatigue
You may also develop a fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), though not always.
Antibiotics Aren’t the Answer for a Cold
If you have a cold, do not take the antibiotics you found in the back of the medicine cabinet or get upset if your doctor won’t prescribe them. Antibiotics won’t help with a cold and taking them when not needed causes other problems.
Antibiotics are very effective at treating infections caused by bacteria. Colds — and the flu, for that matter — are caused by viruses, not bacteria.
Taking antibiotics when they aren’t necessary helps bacteria become resistant to them. Medical providers have become much more careful in prescribing antibiotics to stem this problem.
Treating Your Cold at Home
Often, the best thing you can do for a cold is let it run its course. Over-the-counter remedies can help control the symptoms until you’re well.
Take measures to keep from spreading the cold:
- Stay away from work or school
- Sanitize surfaces that you touch
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
- Avoid sharing drinks, food or flatware
- Wash your hands frequently
Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can lower your fever and relieve muscle aches and headache. Over-the-counter cough medicines can help with coughs and congestion in adults and older children, but these should not be given to children under 6 without consulting with your child’s doctor.
You can also use throat lozenges and sprays to help control your cough or improve your sore throat.
It’s important to stay hydrated when you have a cold. Drinking plenty of fluids will not only help you feel better but will thin the mucous in your throat and nasal passages.
Sleep is also vital when battling a cold. Sleep gives your immune system a chance to recharge so it can best fight the virus causing your illness.
While sick, avoid smoking, vaping and second-hand smoke. These can irritate your throat and nasal passages and make symptoms worse.
Homeopathic Remedies for the Cold
Some people often use homeopathic remedies to treat their cold, including echinacea, zinc and vitamin C. Though these have not been approved by the FDA for treating colds, they’re safe when used as directed.
However, you may want to speak with your doctor before taking these to be sure they won’t interfere with any other medication you’re taking. Also, be aware that some remedies can cause allergic reactions or other side effects.
Feed a Cold, Feed a Fever
If there’s one piece of medical advice your grandmother gave you, it’s “feed a cold, starve a fever.” The maxim has been traced back to a dictionary published in the 1500s, so it’s no wonder that advice has become so pervasive.
People used to believe that avoiding food would deprive your body of the fuel it needed to run a fever. Now, we understand that a fever is one way the body responds to infection, increasing its internal temperature to make it hard for germs — like the viruses that cause a cold — to survive or reproduce.
You don’t need to overeat just because you have a cold, but make sure you’re eating a healthy diet of nutrient-rich foods — like chicken soup.
When to See a Doctor For Your Cold
Most colds will run their course without a trip to the doctor. However, you should consider seeking emergency care or calling your doctor’s office if you have:
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe vomiting
- Dizziness or difficulty remembering
You should also call your provider if your symptoms last longer than seven to 10 days.
Dr. Goodrum is board-certified in internal medicine with Tanner Primary Care at Mirror Lake. To make an appointment, call 770-456-3839.