Colds and the Flu | Treatment

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What can I do to feel better?

There's no cure for the common cold. All you can do to feel better is treat your symptoms while your body fights off the virus.

Ways to treat your cold and flu symptoms

  • Get plenty of rest, especially while you have a fever. Rest helps your body fight infection.
  • Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke, which can make cold symptoms worse
  • Drink lots of fluids such as water and clear soups. Fluids help loosen mucus. Fluids are also important because they help prevent dehydration.
  • Gargle with warm salt water a few times a day to relieve a sore throat. Throat sprays or lozenges may also help relieve the pain.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Use saline (salt water) nose drops to help loosen mucus and moisten the tender skin in your nose.

For the flu, your doctor will probably recommend that you treat the symptoms until you feel better. In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine. Antiviral medicines can shorten the length of time you are sick with the flu. These medicines come as pills, syrup or in an inhaler. The inhaled type may cause problems for some people who have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What medicines can I give my child?

There is no cure for the cold or the flu, and antibiotics do not work against the viruses that cause colds and the flu.

Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (one brand: Children's Tylenol) can help ease the pain of headaches, muscle aches and sore throats as well as treat fevers. Be sure you are giving your child the correct dose according to his or her age and weight.

Nasal sprays and decongestants are not recommended for young children, as they may cause side effects. Cough and cold medicines are not recommended for children, especially those younger than 2 years of age. There is also little evidence that cough and cold medicines and nasal decongestants are effective in treating children.

To treat a cold or the flu, make sure that your child rests and drinks plenty of fluids. You can use a humidifier to help moisten the air in your child's bedroom. This will help with nasal congestion. You can also use a saline nasal spray to thin nasal mucus, and a bulb syringe to suction mucus out of your baby or child's nose.

What over-the-counter medicines can I take for a cold or the flu?

Over-the-counter medicines cannot cure a cold or the flu. Medicine can, however, help relieve some of your cold or flu symptoms. Check with your doctor before giving any medicine to children.

Many cold and flu products are available without a prescription.

What's in over-the-counter cold and flu medicines?

The ingredients listed below are found in many cold and flu medicines. Read labels carefully. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Analgesics relieve aches and pains and reduce fever. Examples include acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, ketoprofen and naproxen. Warning: Children and teenagers shouldn't be given aspirin because it can cause Reye's syndrome.

Antitussives (also called cough suppressants) tell your brain to stop coughing. Don't take an antitussive if you're coughing up mucus. Warning: Children younger than 4 years of age shouldn't be given cough medicines.

Expectorants help thin mucus so it can be coughed up more easily.

Decongestant nasal sprays shrink the nasal passages and reduce congestion. Adults should only use these medicines for a few days. Overuse can cause symptoms to get worse when you stop using the nasal spray. Warning: Children shouldn't use these medicines at all.

Bibliography

See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/14
Created: 01/96

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