First, the bad news: There's no actual cure for cold or flu. But on the bright side, these viruses do tend to clear up pretty quickly-within 3 to 10 days, in most cases. While you can't kill the bugs with medications, you can treat the symptoms so you feel more comfortable and prevent complications, like bronchitis or pneumonia. Here, 11 things you should do at the first sign of sniffles and sneezes.
*Excerpted from Don't Get Sick: A Panic-Free Pocket Guide to Living in a Germ-Filled World!
Is it cold or flu?
Cold symptoms are mostly respiratory-sore throat, coughing, sneezing, runny nose. The flu can have these symptoms too, but it's much more likely to produce fever and chills, along with headache, muscle aches, and fatigue."It comes on more suddenly, and the symptoms tend to be much worse than with a cold," says Christopher Czaja, MD, an infection control officer for the National Jewish Health Hospital in Denver.
Knowing the difference is important because if you suspect you have the flu, you can take an antiviral medication, like Tamiflu, which can shave a few days off seasonal or swine flu if started within the first 2 days of getting sick. Tamiflu is available by prescription only, so if think itÂ's the flu call your doctor-fast!
Rest and hydrate
Take Mom's advice: Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids, Dr. Czaja advises. "Drinking water helps thin mucus secretions in the lungs." What about that old standby, orange juice? ItÂ's fine as a fluid, but don't expect any bonus benefit from the vitamin C it contains. "Scientific studies have yet to prove it's effective for preventing or treating respiratory infections," Dr. Czaja says.
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Sip hot tea
All teas contain theophylline, which is a natural bronchodilator. Choose the brew you find most tasty. Add a little honey if you wish, says Gwen Huitt, MD, director of the Adult Infection Disease Unit at National Jewish Health Hospital. Honey coats the throat to soothe irritation and is rich in infection-fighting antioxidants. It also spurs saliva production, which can help thin out mucus. (Make the ultimate cup of tea with this quick how-to.)
Take an OTC med
Hit the pharmacy to find a med that treats your specific aches and pains. A pain reliever like aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen can provide relief from fever and body aches, says Dr. Czaja. For a cough, look for a product that contains dextromethorphan, a suppressant that can temporarily stop cough symptoms. For congestion, look for guaifenesin, an expectorant that can help dislodge mucus. Pseudoephedrine is a very effective decongestant (it helps unplug stuffy noses by constricting blood vessels).
Pick the right natural remedy
If you feel symptoms coming on, zinc or Cold-fX (a supplement that contains ginseng) could help shorten symptoms, research shows. Your body needs the mineral zinc to produce germ-fighting white blood cells, but don't overdo it. More than 50 mg a day can actually backfire and suppress your immune system.
Ginseng bolsters levels of white blood cells and crucial immune system proteins called interleukins.
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