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The common cold
There is no cure for the common cold. Upper respiratory infections or colds are an inflammation of the upper respiratory tract caused by many different viral strains. They cannot be cured by antibiotics and generally antibiotics are not used even to prevent one from getting worse. However, over-the-counter medications may reduce your symptoms.

Thus, it is important to determine if you have a viral cold opposed to a bacterial infection. Colds are spread mainly through droplet infection through kissing, sneezing, coughing, and contaminated hands. Colds may last in diminishing severity for two to four weeks.

To prevent the spread of the virus, cover the mouth during sneezing and coughing. Also, wash your hands, especially before handling food. Make no mistake, the common cold can make people feel terrible. Viral illnesses are easier to spread from person to person than the bacterial ones.

The following are all symptoms of the common cold. If you have had any of these symptoms (and none of the symptoms listed in the next section) for less than 4-6 days, you probably do not need medical attention for your illness.

Try using over-the-counter medications, rest, and fluids to alleviate your symptoms and realize that there may be a day or two where nothing seems of much help.

Symptoms

General body aches, chills, fever less than 101° F, fatigue, rundown feeling, headache, sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, dry & hacking cough, cough bringing up mucus

Do you have...

A rash, more than a mild earache, facial pain, a cough that produces green, brown, or bloody mucus, chest pain, a wheeze, a history of repeated strep throat, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, rheumatic heart disease, kidney disease (excluding common urinary tract infection), asthma, or chronic bronchitis, cold symptoms that have persisted for more than four days without improvement, a fever of 101° F or more on each of the last three days, white or yellow patches on the back of your throat?

Contact the main health center for an appointment.


Cough

 
Different medications are used to relieve productive (mucus producing) and nonproductive (dry) coughs. Make sure you are taking the correct medication or else you may be doing yourself more harm than good.

For productive coughs: 

Guaifenesin is the active ingredient in medications for productive coughs. (Found in Robitussin)
- A cough expectorant to help loosen phlegm and thin bronchial secretions associated with a cough that is producing mucus. It is best not to suppress a productive cough as it helps the body clear its airways. CAUTION: Side effects are rare if taken as directed. Do not take if you have a chronic cough, asthma, emphysema, or excessive phlegm.

For nonproductive coughs:

Dextromethorphan is the active ingredient in medications for nonproductive coughs. Dextromethorphan with guaifenesin (Found in Robitussin DM, Benylin DM)
- A cough suppressant; use for a dry cough that is probably caused by minor throat and bronchial irritation.

A Note About Cough Suppressants: Cough suppressants generally contain dextromethorphan and guaifenesin. This does not mean, however, that you should take a suppressant for a mucus-producing cough all day. This will inhibit your body from coughing and clearing out mucus. CAUTION: Side effects are rare if taken as directed. Do not take if you have a chronic cough, asthma, emphysema, or excessive phlegm.

Combination cold medications 

If you choose to take a cold medication that treats multiple symptoms, it is helpful to know its ingredients. There are two main things to look out for with combination over-the-counter medications:

1. You may be treating symptoms you do not have when you take a combination medication. For example, Robitussin Maximum Strength Cough & Cold Liquid contains a decongestant and a cough suppressant. If you have a cough, but not a stuffy or runny nose, you would not need to take this product.

2. You may not be getting enough of a particular active ingredient when you take a combination product (see examples below). -OR- You may overdose on an ingredient if you take a combination medication in conjunction with another drug. 

Contact the main health center for an appointment.


Fever

 
If you have a fever, do you also have any of the following symptoms? 

A fever that is 101° F or higher and/or persists for more than two days; a fever that appears after recently starting a new medication, a fever that lasts more than two days; a fever that is accompanied by a rash, a severe headache or stiff neck, marked irritability or confusion, a cough with green or brown sputum, shortness of breath with a cough, severe back pain, abdominal pain, or painful urination, symptoms of dehydration (see more below).

Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when your body loses too much water. When you lose large amounts of fluids through diarrhea, vomiting, or sweating, the body cells reabsorb fluid from the blood and other body tissues. In more extreme cases, this could cause the blood vessels to collapse and lead to shock.

Early symptoms of dehydration:

Dry mouth and sticky saliva, reduced urine output with dark yellow urine.

Treatment of dehydration:

Treatment of dehydration involves stopping the fluid loss and gradually replacing lost fluids. It is important to control vomiting and diarrhea before consuming larger amounts of liquids. A rehydration drink, such as Pedialyte or Rehydralyte, can replace fluids and essential minerals called electrolytes.

Sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Poweraid, will replace fluid, but most contain too much sugar and not enough essential minerals. Plain water will provide fluid but not any necessary nutrients or electrolytes. 

Contact the main health center for an appointment.


Sore throat 

 
If you have a sore throat, do you also have any of the following symptoms?

Pain with swallowing; labored or difficult breathing; a sore throat that develops after exposure to strep throat; a sore throat accompanied by chills; a fever of 102° F or higher, and a cough that produces green or yellow mucus; a rash that occurs with your sore throat; a mild sore throat that has lasted longer than two weeks; a sore throat that is not caused by a cold, allergy, smoking, overuse of your voice, or other irritation; hoarseness or enlarged lymph nodes that have persisted for more than 10 days; a sore throat that occurs with the typical signs of strep throat.

NOTE: A sore throat with a cough is more often due to viral pharyngitis than strep pharyngitis.

Symptoms of strep throat:

A sore throat that persists for three to four days, a fever of 101° F or higher, swollen glands in the neck, white or yellow patches on the tonsils or back of the throat, headache, mild upset stomach, rash

Examining your throat for signs of a strep infection:

Most sore throats are caused by viruses and often accompany a cold. A mild sore throat is often due to low humidity or smoke. People with allergies or nasal congestion may breathe through their mouths while sleeping contributing to or causing a sore throat. However, it is important to rule out more serious causes of a sore throat, such as streptococcal bacteria (strep throat) and mononucleosis.

Most sore throats are viral in nature and cannot be treated by antibiotics. Strep throat is caused by a bacteria and should be treated by antibiotics. You can examine your own throat for signs of strep throat.

To examine your throat:

Open your mouth wide and use a flashlight to see your throat and tonsils more easily. Saying " ahh " can make the tonsils easier to see. Look for white or yellow patches on the tonsils or the back of the throat. 

Contact the main health center for an appointment.


Congestion/ runny nose

 
If you have nasal congestion, do you also have any of the following symptoms?

A temperature of 101° F or higher that persists for more than two days, congestion that does not clear up within 2-3 weeks; a cough or sneeze which produces brown, green, or bloody mucus; tender or painful sinuses around the eyes.
 
Contact the main health center for an appointment.


Over-the-counter medications

 
Once you have determined that your illness is a cold and does not require medical attention, you may wish to take an over-the-counter cold medication to alleviate your symptoms. There is a wide variety of products available. It is often confusing when trying to decide which cold medication to take. If you learn which active ingredients in the medications relieve which symptoms, the process of choosing a medication will become easier.

If you only have one or two cold symptoms, it is best to treat the individual symptoms rather than take a combination cold medication and treat symptoms you do not have. However, if you have multiple cold symptoms, you may decide to take a combination cold medication. Knowing the active ingredients in the medications will help you to decide which medications are best for you.

Warning

  • An over-the-counter (OTC) medication is one that you can buy without a prescription. However, do not assume that all OTC drugs are safe for you.
  • Carefully read the label of any OTC drug you use, especially if you are already taking a prescription medication or another OTC medication.
  • Check the expiration date on all packages. Old drugs may have lost their effectiveness.
  • Read the list of possible side effects associated with any OTC drug you are taking. Drugs can interact with other drugs, foods, or alcohol. Be sure you know when it is safe to take a medication. Also, overuse of medication can cause unwanted or severe side effects.
  • Do not take any drugs that do not have a label or that were prescribed for someone else.

Sore Throat



Phenol or Benzocaine (found in Cepastat or Cepacol Lozenges, or Chloraseptic Sore Throat Spray & Gargle)-numbs the throat tissues temporarily and reduces discomfort. It is important to distinguish among the effects of the different ingredients in throat lozenges.

There are three main types of throat lozenges: lozenges with a weak topical anesthetic, lozenges with menthol, and unmedicated lozenges. A minor sore throat can be treated just as effectively with less expensive acetaminophen (found in Tylenol) and a warm salt water gargle.

Lozenges with a topical anesthetic 

These lozenges release a weak topical anesthetic as they dissolve. The effect of this is that the anesthetic will sometimes numb everything in your mouth, especially your tongue. Examples of this type of medication include:

- Cepastat-Sore Throat Lozenges -
regular strength lozenges contain 14.5 mg Phenol
extra strength lozenges contain 29 mg Phenol

- Cepacol-Anesthetic Lozenges -
regular strength lozenges contain 10 mg Benzocaine and 0.07% Ceepryn

- Sucrets -
regular strength lozenges contain 2.0 mg Dyclonine Hydrochloride (an anesthetic)
maximum strength lozenges contain 3.0 mg Dyclonine Hydrochloride

- Chloraseptic Sore Throat Spray & Gargle -
This product, like the lozenges, is used for the temporary relief of minor throat or mouth pain; it contains 1.4% Phenol.

Menthol lozenges

Menthol provides a cooling sensation to aid in symptomatic relief of minor throat irritations. Menthol does not numb other parts of your mouth like the topical anesthetics. It provides relief mainly through the cooling sensation. Examples of this type of medication include:

- Cepacol-Dry Throat Lozenges -
different regular strength flavors contain 3.6-5.0 mg Menthol

- N'Ice-Medicated Sore Throat and Cough Lozenges -
regular strength lozenges contain 5.0 mg Menthol

- Halls Mentho-Lyptus Cough Suppressant Tablets -
regular strength tablets contain less than 10 mg Menthol
maximum strength tablets contain 10 mg Menthol

Unmedicated lozenges 

Unmedicated lozenges, such as Hall's Vitamin C Drops, do not contain any medication. The bitter flavor causes your mouth to produce more saliva and, thus, keep your throat moister. This will help especially if you have a dry cough, but does not always have the same effects as a lozenge with menthol or benzocaine. The effects of unmedicated lozenges can also be achieved by drinking large amounts of water.

Fever



Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen are the two major active ingredients that will help reduce fevers. Young adults should avoid taking aspirin for cold symptoms. Aspirin, which contains salicylates, has been implicated in the development of Reye Syndrome, an uncommon, but serious complication of viral illnesses, such as colds, in children and young adults.

- Acetaminophen (Found in Tylenol) -
used as an antipyretic (fever reducer) and an analgesic (pain reliever).
CAUTION: Side effects are rare if taken as directed.

- Ibuprofen (Found in Nuprin, Advil and Motrin) -
used as an antipyretic (fever reducer), analgesic (pain reliever), and anti-inflammatory medication. Generic ibuprofen is fine.
CAUTION: Side effects include stomach irritation; take with food, milk, or large amounts of water. Do not use if allergic to aspirin.

Nasal congestion 



Good hydration is the place to start. Water and clear liquids are good decongestants in and of themselves so DRINK!

There are several different active ingredients that will relieve nasal congestion. Pseudoephedrine is one of the most common.

Pseudoephedrine (Found in Sudafed)
- Decongests nasal membranes by shrinking the blood vessels and swollen membranes. It will NOT make you drowsy because it does not contain an antihistamine. It may make you feel "hyper", though. Do not take before bed, switch to actifed or check with a doctor or nurse.

A Note about Antihistamines: Antihistamines often cause drowsiness and are often found in OTC products designed to relieve cold and allergy symptoms. Examples of antihistamines include diphenhydramine hydrochloride chlorpheniramine, and clemastine fumarate. CAUTION: Side effects include dizziness, nervousness, sleeplessness, and heart palpitations. Do NOT take with caffeine, other stimulants, or alcohol.

Sodium Chloride (Found in some nasal sprays, e.g., Nasal Moist)
- Used for dry nasal membranes caused by chronic sinusitis, dry air, allergies, and asthma.

Cough


Different medications are used to relieve productive (mucus producing) and nonproductive (dry) coughs. Make sure you are taking the correct medication or else you may be doing yourself more harm than good.

For productive coughs 

Guaifenesin is the active ingredient in medications for productive coughs. (Found in Robitussin)
- A cough expectorant to help loosen phlegm and thin bronchial secretions associated with a cough that is producing mucus. It is best not to suppress a productive cough as it helps the body clear its airways. CAUTION: Side effects are rare if taken as directed. Do not take if you have a chronic cough, asthma, emphysema, or excessive phlegm.

For nonproductive coughs

Dextromethorphan is the active ingredient in medications for nonproductive coughs. Dextromethorphan with guaifenesin (Found in Robitussin DM, Benylin DM)
- A cough suppressant; use for a dry cough that is probably caused by minor throat and bronchial irritation.

A Note About Cough Suppressants: Cough suppressants generally contain dextromethorphan and guaifenesin. This does not mean, however, that you should take a suppressant for a mucus producing cough all day. This will inhibit your body from coughing and clearing out mucus. CAUTION: Side effects are rare if taken as directed. Do not take if you have a chronic cough, asthma, emphysema, or excessive phlegm.

Combination cold medications 

If you choose to take a cold medication that treats multiple symptoms, it is helpful to know its ingredients. There are two main things to look out for with combination over-the-counter medications.

1. You may be treating symptoms you do not have when you take a combination medication. For example, Robitussin Maximum Strength Cough & Cold Liquid contains a decongestant and a cough suppressant. If you have a cough, but not a stuffy or runny nose, you would not need to take this product.

2. You may not be getting enough of a particular active ingredient when you take a combination product (see examples above). -OR- You may overdose on an ingredient if you take a combination medication in conjunction with another drug. 

Contact the main health center for an appointment.