Health Info

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General Health - Common Cold Self Care

What is "The Common Cold?"

Most upper respiratory tract infections are caused a variety of different viruses. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections and, in fact, may be harmful if given when not needed.

Symptoms may last for 7-10 days, but some infections linger with diminishing severity for 3 to 4 weeks.

Cold viruses are spread from person to person through coughs, sneezes, and mucus on a people’s hands. Washing your hands or using hand sanitizers frequently will reduce your chances of getting a cold.

Call the advice nurse at (814) 863-4463 if any of the following happens:

Over-the-counter medications may help you feel better while your body’s own defenses are combating the virus.

If you have fever

If you have nasal congestion

Nasal congestion has many causes: a cold, the flu, other infections, or an allergy to food, chemicals, or other substances like pollen or dust. If your nasal congestion is caused by allergies, try one of the newer non-sedating antihistamines. If from a common cold:

If you have a cough

Coughing is your body’s way of trying to clear the airways of mucus and infection. It is important to determine if your cough is caused by an infection, an allergy, or an irritant.

If you have a sore throat

The two main causes for the common sore throat are viruses and bacteria. Only sore throats caused by bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. Typical symptoms for bacterial sore throat include a sore throat that persists for three to four days, a fever of 101° or higher, swollen glands in the neck, and white patches on the tonsils or the back of the throat.

Suck on cough drops or lozenges medicated with menthol, benzocaine, or camphor. (Examples that contain benzocaine include Sucrets or Chloraseptic)

Take ibuprofen (Advil®) or acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or naproxen (Aleve®) as directed. DO NOT USE ASPIRIN.

IMPORTANT CAUTION: Most cold and flu preparations contain a combination of ingredients, so it is important to read the labels of each product. Sometimes, if you take more than one product, you may be getting a double dose of an active ingredient and/or not getting enough of another.

Medication Details

Salt Water Nasal Irrigation

Various saline nasal sprays and nasal saline rinse kits are available commercially or you can make your own saline by mixing ½ teaspoon of

salt and 8 ounces of warm water in a clean container. Place the above mixture in a reusable sinus rinse bottle or draw up into a nasal bulb syringe. The most convenient way to perform a sinus rinse is in the shower or over a sink.

Antihistamine (1st generation)

These medications are available without a prescription and include brompheniramine (generic for DimeTapp), chlorpheniramine (generic for Chlor-Trimeton and Singlet), diphenhydramine (generic for Benadryl), or doxylamine (generic for NyQuil).

Antihistamines (newer non-sedating)

These antihistamines can be used to treat allergies, but do not have the same degree of effectiveness for treating colds. Examples include loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and fexofenadine (Allegra).

Decongestant (pseudoephedrine)

Decongestants purchased off the shelf contain phenylephrine and are much less effective. You must ask the pharmacist for pseudoephedrine(regulated because of illegal use to make methamphetamine), although no prescription is required. Oral decongestants may produce rapid heart rate, blood pressure elevation, nervous stimulation, and restlessness which may interfere with sleep.

Oxymetazoline nasal spray (generic Afrin)

Oxymetazoline nasal spray (generic Afrin) can rapidly relieve nasal obstruction, however, when the decongestant effect of the drug wears off, nasal obstruction rapidly returns. Therefore, this can be very effective, but limit use to 3 days (if used twice daily) or 5-6 nights (if only used at bedtime). Overuse by just a few days can result in “rebound” obstruction and mucosal damage.

Approved by the UHS Patient Education Committee Revised 7/8/2016

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