Let’s face it, URI’s 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. Probably the worst thing is, there is nothing we can do to make them go away any quicker. 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.
So, what’s a person to do? There are a few things you can do to help reduce the symptoms.
- 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.
- 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). Follow the directions!
- Honey has been shown to help reduce cough, either by itself or in hot tea.
- If you use multiple medications, make sure you are not duplicating (and overusing) specific types of medications (especially antihistamines,decongestants and acetaminophen).
- For a number of people, use of nasal steroid allergy sprays (Flonase, Nasocort, Nasonex) may help reduce nasal congestion, although there are no good studies to support this.
- 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.
- Drink lots of water and stay well hydrated. This is very important with a number of cold medications.
When do you need to 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 URI’s?
A lot of this is common sense.
- Wash your hands frequently. (Common sense, right?)
- Get adequate sleep (7-8 hours each night). This helps maintain your immune system.
- Eat a healthy diet. This is also very important for maintaining immunity.
- 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.
- Don’t eat or drink after others. (More common sense.)
- Some studies indicate Echinacea use may help prevent a cold, but it won’t help once you have a cold. Some studies suggest that zinc started within 48 hours of symptoms may shorten the duration of the cold.