A sniffle here, a cough there and suddenly a cold has come. What to do? We asked medical experts. Heres their advice:
Question: How do you know if you have a cold?
Answer: The common cold lasts three to 10 days, though a cough can stick around longer.
Many types of viruses cause colds, and infection is spread through the air when someone coughs or sneezes, or by direct contact with an infected person shaking hands or a contaminated surface like a doorknob.
Q: Are there effective home remedies?
A: Doctors still recommend the age-old standbys: Get rest and drink a lot of fluids, which help thin the mucus.
Gargling with salt water is also a good idea. For example, mix 1/4 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water. Though studies differ on whether its effective, it temporarily relieves the pain of a sore throat.
It might even be helpful to gargle every day when you arent sick.
Q: What are the best options at the drugstore?
A: A pharmacist can help people with colds choose the best over-the-counter medication for their particular symptoms. But, its important to tell the pharmacist about any conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure or glaucoma because cold medications can exacerbate them.
Also, note other medications that youre taking, keeping in mind that your pharmacist may not have a complete picture of your medical history.
Q: What about decongestants and antihistamines?
A: In adults, over-the-counter decongestants taken by mouth, like Sudafed, and nasal sprays, like Neo-Synephrine might temporarily provide relief of nasal stuffiness. Studies indicate that antihistamines such as Benadryl are ineffective alone, but might relieve some nasal symptoms when combined with a decongestant. Some feel that expectorants for cough might help. Prescription nasal sprays may also provide relief.
Its important to follow the instructions about how long you should use medicated nasal sprays, which can be effective in the short term but cause problems if taken over more than a few days.
Saline nasal sprays, which moisten the nasal passages, can be used indefinitely, but medicated sprays can cause whats called a rebound effect, actually making congestion worse if theyre used too long. Four-hour sprays have more incidents of rebound congestion than 12-hour sprays.
Q: Are antibiotics an option?
A: Antibiotics are not recommended unless you have a bacterial infection and most colds are not caused by bacteria.
Keep in mind that green mucus doesnt necessarily mean that you have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics.
Q: Do you treat a kid with a cold the same as an adult?
A: Avoid giving aspirin to kids because it can cause serious side effects. Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are helpful in reducing a fever and relieving headaches and body aches in both adults and children.
Also remember that cough and cold medications are usually not advised in children younger than 6 years and should not be used in children younger than 2.
Q: How active, or inactive, should you be with a cold?
A: If you have a fever, you should probably stay home from school and work. You might consider cutting back on exercise too.
The picture changes, though, once all thats left of your cold are residual cold symptoms slight cough or runny nose without fever. For the average person whose cold has progressed to that point and who feels well, going to work or school is probably OK. For athletes and active adults with only above-the-neck symptoms and no fever, moderate exercise probably is OK.