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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Tips for Easing Cold, Flu Miseries

Tips for Easing Cold, Flu Miseries

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Wed., Dec. 19, 2007
By Francie Wise, RN, MPH

YOU'VE GOT A cold and you're miserable: stuffy nose, body ache, congested head and chest, sneezing, and a cough that keeps you up all night.

All you want to do is crawl into bed, which is actually one of the best things you can do for a cold or the flu.

These simple tips may help prevent the spread of colds and flu this season and help you cope if you do get sick:

Prevention tips

  • If you are an employer or a teacher, encourage employees and students to stay home when they're sick.
  • Get a flu vaccination.
  • Stay healthy: don't smoke and get exercise; enough sleep and healthy foods help fight off illness.
  • Wash hands frequently, especially after sneezing or coughing and before eating. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren't available.
  • Cover your cough and sneeze with either a disposable tissue or by coughing into your sleeve, not into your hand.

Home care tips for colds and flu

  • Rest, fluids and time are the "cure" for a cold, not antibiotics. The illness must run its course. There is nothing your doctor can do to help cure your cold.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, particularly if vomiting: soups, juices and/or Gatorade for adults and teens, Pedialyte for children.
  • Eat healthy. The old adage "feed a cold, starve a fever" is not true.

To soothe sore throats and coughs

  • Use non-menthol cough drops (menthol dries out the throat)
  • Gargle with saltwater
  • Suck on frozen juice Popsicles
  • Over-the-counter (dextromethorphan) or prescription (codeine) cough suppressants can help sleeping.

To ease congestion

  • Breathe moist air from a hot shower, humidifier or vaporizer to moisten and soothe airways.
  • Nasal saline drops, vapor rub or decongestants may help.
  • Turn off your heater and even open the window at night, but bundle up so your body stays warm. Cold air doesn't cause colds. Viruses from other people do. Hot, dry air causes the respiratory tract to increase mucus production to keep the airways moist. Cool, moist air will help reduce congestion and coughing.

Emergency staff commonly see calm, alert-looking infants and children whose parents rushed them to the ER at 2 a.m. because they were "coughing and gasping for air." They probably were, but by getting them out of their hot, dry house (which the parents assumed was helping them) into the cool, foggy night on the way to the ER, their parents cured them.

To reduce fever, pain

  • Use over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen, but avoid aspirin-containing products for anyone under 20 years old.

Seek medical attention in these situations

  • Infants younger than 3 months old with a temperature of 100.5 degrees or higher.
  • A persistent high fever (skin that is hot to the touch) that lasts more than a few days, especially if a person also has a stiff neck, shaking chills, confusion, low fluid intake, or an inability to wake up.
  • Frequent vomiting lasting for more than 25 hours in adults or 12 hours in children.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Sore throat without a cough.
  • Failure to start getting better after a week.
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing, or chest pain.

Wise is director of communicable disease programs and public health nursing for Contra Costa Health Services.

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