Let’s face it, upper respiratory infections (URIs) are miserable. The progression of sore throat, sniffles, sneezing, nasal congestion, drainage, sinus pressure, cough, fatigue and aches all combine to make an URI a very unpleasant experience. However, there are some things we can do to help reduce (but not entirely eliminate) the symptoms.
There are over 200 viruses that can cause common cold symptoms. Most of these will last 2 weeks or less, but there are a few that can last significantly longer. Viruses DO NOT respond to antibiotic therapy. In fact, less than 2% of colds are complicated by secondary bacterial infections. Yellow and green mucous indicates there is inflammatory response present in the nasal secretions, not a bacterial infection. Using antibiotics for the common cold only serves to increase antibiotic resistance among bacteria, which is a growing (and very dangerous) problem.
A Few More Antibiotic Facts
- Studies have found the common cold resolves without antibiotic treatment.
- Treatment with an antibiotic does not shorten the duration of illness or prevent bacterial rhinosinusitis (a sinus infection).
- Patients with purulent green or yellow secretions do not benefit from antibiotic treatment.
- Over-the-counter cough suppressants have limited efficacy for relief of cough due to upper respiratory infection.
How to help reduce symptoms of a respiratory infection
- Acute cough associated with the common cold may be relieved by first-generation antihistamines and decongestants (Nyquil/Dayquil, Tylenol Cold and Sinus, Advil Cold and Sinus, Bromphed-DM, Claritin-D).
- Honey has been shown to help reduce cough, either by itself or in hot tea.
- Use of a Neti Pot or Sinus Rinse (with distilled water) may also greatly reduce nasal congestion and drainage. You can purchase these kits at any local pharmacy.
- Use of nasal steroid allergy sprays (Flonase, Nasocort, Nasonex) may help reduce nasal congestion.
- If you use multiple medications, make sure you are not duplicating (and overusing) specific types of medications (especially antihistamines, decongestants and acetaminophen).
- Drink plenty of water and stay well hydrated.
When should I seek medical treatment?
- If symptoms last longer than 2 weeks.
- If you start running a fever (101.5 F or greater).
- If you start to develop shortness of breath or wheezing.
- If you develop eye pain/swelling and/or vision changes.
- If you develop severe head or facial pain/swelling.
What can I do to avoid respiratory infections?
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Get adequate sleep (7-8 hours each night).
- A healthy diet is one of the most important steps in maintaining a strong immune system.
- Don’t eat or drink after others.
- Get your influenza vaccine. The flu is the most dangerous form of URI and your risk of getting the flu can be greatly reduced by getting your flu vaccine each year.
- Some studies suggest that zinc within 48 hours of symptoms may shorten the duration of the cold.
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