What are colds?
Everyone gets a
cold from time to time. Children get more colds than adults.
usually last 1 to 2 weeks. You can catch a cold at any time of year, but they
are more common in late winter and early spring.
There is no cure
for a cold.
Antibiotics will not cure a cold. If you catch a cold,
treat the symptoms.
Lots of different viruses
cause colds, but the symptoms are usually the same:
You will probably feel a cold come on over the course of
a couple of days. As the cold gets worse, your nose may get stuffy with thicker
A cold is not the same as the
flu (influenza). Flu symptoms are worse and come on faster. If you
have the flu, you may feel very tired. You may also have a fever and shaking
chills, lots of aches and pains, a headache, and a cough.
feel like you have a cold all the time, or if cold symptoms last more than 2
weeks, you may have allergies or sinusitis. Call your doctor.
Good home treatment of
a cold can help you feel better. When you get a cold:
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
Don't take cold medicine that uses several drugs to treat
different symptoms. For example, don't take medicine that contains both a
decongestant for a stuffy nose and a cough medicine. Treat each symptom on its
A nasal decongestant spray can help your stuffy nose, but
make sure you don't use it for more than 3 days in a row. You could get a
"rebound" effect, which makes the mucous membranes in your nose swell up even
Cough preparations can cause problems for people who have certain health problems, such as asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, or an enlarged prostate (BPH). Cough preparations may also interact with sedatives, certain antidepressants, and other medicines. Read the package carefully, or ask your pharmacist or doctor to help you choose.
Cough suppressants can stifle breathing. Use them with caution if you are older than 60 or if you have chronic respiratory problems.
Be careful with cold medicines. They may not be safe for young children, so check the label first. If you do give these medicines to a child, always follow the directions about how much to give based on the child’s age and weight. For more information, see Quick Tips: Giving Over-the-Counter Medicines to Children.
Call your doctor
There are several
things you can do to help prevent colds:
Singh M, Das RR (2011). Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).
Davidson TM, Smith WM (2010). The Bradford Hill criteria and zinc-induced anosmia: A causality analysis. Archives of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, 136(7): 673–676.
December 21, 2011
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& David Messenger, MD
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