About This Condition
The common cold is an acute (short-term) viral infection of the upper respiratory tract that may be spread through the air (by sneezing, for example) or by contact with contaminated objects.
A note about children’s cold medicine:
Concerns in the news about the safety of cough and cold medicines have left many parents confused about the safest ways to treat their children’s cold symptoms. At a hearing, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that, until more research shows safety and efficacy, these medicines should not be given to children under two years old unless instructed by a healthcare provider. For parents who may want to continue giving over-the-counter cold medicines to their children, the FDA has the following recommendations:
- Read all of the information in the “Drug Facts” box on the product label.
- Do not give children medicine more often or in greater amounts than what is listed on the product label and use only as directed.
- Do not give children medication that is intended for adult use.
- Be aware that using various cough and cold medicines in combination may pose health risks; parents should ask a doctor whether or not it is safe to use products in combination.
- Use appropriate measuring devices; parents should contact their doctor or pharmacist if they do not understand the dosing directions.
The common cold often causes runny nose, sore throat, and malaise (vague discomfort). Sore throat is sometimes a symptom of a more serious condition distinct from the common cold, such as strep throat, which may require medical diagnosis and treatment with appropriate antibiotics. Since colds are caused by a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective against the common cold.
Rest is recommended, especially for people with severe symptoms. Increased fluid intake is necessary in order to maintain water balance and to thin secretions. A warm, humid environment (40 to 70% relative humidity) created by a humidifier may provide comfort during the common cold, as long as the device is kept clean and infection free. Users of humidifiers are advised to carefully follow instructions on safe and proper use to avoid exposure to more infection.
Reducing Your Risk
To help keep you in top health, our experts recommend these steps:
- Fortify with food. Healthy foods—fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains—support a strong immune system, while excessive added sugars, fat, and alcohol can impair immunity. Aim to lower your susceptibility to colds and flu (influenza) with good nutrition. Select Eating Right, above, for more information.
- Keep bugs at bay. There are no over-the-counter or prescription medications proven to prevent colds and flu, so save these products for when you’re sick. Instead practice good hygiene—wash hands often and cover coughs and sneezes—to keep the viruses at bay. Select Medicines, above, for more information.
- Mobilize your motivation. Consider purchasing a tool, such as a pedometer, to track daily steps taken. Regular physical activity is a true immune booster, and anything you do to help yourself get fit can bolster your resistance to colds and flu. Select Personal Care, above, for more ideas on tools for a healthier life.
Living With It
Our experts recommend the following tips to support your recovery from colds and flu:
- Turn to your honey. Raw (unpasteurized) honey has antimicrobial properties and may help lessen coughs and improve sleep in people with colds. Never give honey to babies under 12 months old. Select Eating Right, above, for more information.
- Value your vitamins. Vitamin C and zinc (lozenges) can help shorten duration of colds, while echinacea and elderberry extract may speed recovery from flu. Select Vitamins, above, for more information.
- Care for the with caution. The FDA recommends that children under two years never be given medications for cold or flu symptoms. The risk of harm outweighs any benefit. For older children, follow label instructions carefully, and do not give children medication intended for adult use. Select About, and Medicines, above, for more information.
- Control your environment. For both kids and adults, humidifiers and vaporizers in the bedroom at night can soothe dry sinuses and ease cold or flu symptoms. Select Personal Care, above, for more information.