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Health Condition

Common Cold/Sore Throat

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.

Symptoms

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.

Other Therapies

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.

References

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39. Eby G, Davis DR, Halcomb WW. Reduction in duration of common colds by zinc gluconate lozenges in a double-blind study. Antimicrobial Agents Chemotherapy 1984;25:20-4.

40. Al-Nakib W, Higgins PG, Barrow I, et al. Prophylaxis and treatment of rhinovirus colds with zinc gluconate lozenges. J Antimicrobial Chemotherapy 1987;20:893-901.

41. Prasad AS, Beck FWJ, Bao B, Snell D, Fitzgerald JT. Duration and severity of symptoms and levels of plasma interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor, and adhesion molecules in patients with common cold treated with zinc acetate. J Infect Dis 2008;197:795-802.

42. Macknin ML, Piedmonte M, Calendine C, et al. Zinc gluconate lozenges for treating the common cold in children. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA 1998;279:1962-7.

43. Petrus EJ, Lawson KA, Bucci LR, Blum K. Randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled clinical study of the effectiveness of zinc acetate lozenges on common cold symptoms in allergy-tested subjects. Curr Ther Res 1998;59:595-607.

44. Prasad AS, Fitzgerald JT, Bao B, et al. Duration of symptoms and plasma cytokine levels in patients with the common cold treated with zinc acetate. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ann Intern Med 2000;133:245-52.

45. Eby G. Where's the bias? Ann Intern Med 1998;128:75 [letter].

46. Garland ML, Hagmeyer KO. The role of zinc lozenges in treatment of the common cold. Ann Pharmacolther 1998;32:63-9 [review].

47. Weismann K, Jakobsen JP, Weismann JE, et al. Zinc gluconate lozenges for common cold. A double-blind clinical trial. Dan Med Bull 1990;37:279-81.

48. Jackson JL, Peterson C, Lesho E. A meta-analysis of zinc salts lozenges and the common cold. Arch Intern Med 1997;157:2373-6.

49. Kurugol Z, Akilli M, Bayram N, Koturoglu G. The prophylactic and therapeutic effectiveness of zinc sulphate on common cold in children. Acta Paediatr 2006;95:1175-81.

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59. Gabrielian ES, Shukarian AK, Goukasova GI, et al. A double blind, placebo-controlled study of Andrographis paniculata fixed combination Kan Jang in the treatment of acute upper respiratory tract infections including sinusitis. Phytomedicine 2002;9:589-97.

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70. Scaglione F, Cattaneo G, Alessandria M, Cogo R. Efficacy and safety of the standardized ginseng extract G 115 for potentiating vaccination against common cold and/or influenza syndrome. Drugs Exp Clin Res 1996;22:65-72.

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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2018.

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