Find Relief From Colds and Flu

Health, Home & Family
on February 3, 2002

Despite frequent hand washings and huge doses of vitamin C, you have the flu. Or at least a nasty cold. Its easy to confuse the two; both are viral respiratory infections, and both make you feel pretty miserable.

No cure exists for the common cold, but the flu can be relieved if treated within the first 48 hours with new prescription drugs such as Relenza and Tamiflu. Proper medications also can relieve the misery caused by sore throat, congestion, aches and pains, coughs, and fatigue. So can a good cup of hot tea, wrapping up in a favorite soft blanket, and getting lots of rest.

The things your mother told you to do are still valid; plenty of fluids, good nutrition, and rest, says Dr. Larry Fields, a family physician in Ashland, Ky.

Over-the-counter medications, taken properly, can ease you through the sneezing and sniffles.

Aches. For aches, pains, and fever, take aspirin, Tylenol, or an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, found in Advil or Motrin, Fields suggests. However, if youre taking other medication for a chronic condition, check with your family doctor before taking any over-the-counter medication, Fields cautions.

Liquids are particularly important if you have a fever, which dehydrates the body.

Coughing. Coughs should be treated with dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant that also loosens congestion, Fields says. This suppressant is found in such over-the-counter remedies as Robitussin-DM.

Sore throat. Commercial sprays and a salt-water gargle provide relief, but Fields recommends a physicians trade secret mix equal parts of liquid Benadryl and the antacid Mylanta and use as a gargle. Benadryl is a topical anesthetic on mucus membranes to soothe the throat, and Mylanta makes it adhere to the surface, Fields says.

Congestion. Nasal decongestants can relieve a stuffy nose, provided you dont have high blood pressure or a rapid heart rate, Fields says. The drug in decongestants elevates blood pressure, he cautions. Chest congestion can be relieved by cough medicines that contain an expectorant, which loosens mucus to make coughs more productive. A non-drug alternative to treat nasal and chest congestion is to use a cool-mist humidifier, which breaks water into droplets and releases them into the air, suggests the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Drink plenty of fluids such as water, juices, and decaffeinated herbal teas, the American Lung Association recommends. Eight glasses a day are preferred to keep the lining of the nose and throat from drying out so that mucus remains moist and flows out of the body. Avoid coffee, tea, or soft drinks that contain caffeine and cause dehydration.

Fatigue. Rest is vital in colds and flu recovery, though many people continue their hectic schedules throughout their illness. Rest is as good for you as any medication, Fields says, because it allows your body to conserve the energy it needs to fight infection.