What Causes a Cold or the Flu?
Make yourself comfortable. “That means listening to your body,” says Eric Westerman, M.D., an infectious-disease specialist at the Methodist Hospital, in Houston. “If your body says you need to sleep, then that’s what you should do. Ignore it and it could take you longer to recover.
Drink three to four extra glasses of fluid a day to replace the moisture lost from coughing and sneezing and to thin mucous secretions.
Try echinacea. A recent study of 14 controlled trials found the herbal supplement can slightly reduce a cold’s duration―and can cut people’s risk of catching a cold by 35 percent when a rhinovirus, the most common cold culprit, is involved.
Rely on vitamin C. A 2007 review of 30 studies found it doesn’t reduce your chances of getting a cold and is unlikely to affect an existing cold’s severity.
Use zinc to calm a cough. Guidelines set forth by the American College of Chest Physicians in 2006 do not recommend turning to it for this purpose.
OD on Airborne. Kelly Scolaro, Pharm.D., who cowrote the 15th edition of the Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs ($150, amazon.com), says there is “absolutely no clinical evidence out there about the effectiveness or the safety of this product.” And as there are 5,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A in each tablet, people who take Airborne can easily exceed 10,000 IU, the maximum safe daily dose for this vitamin.
How to Manage the Flu
Taking a prescription drug, such as Tamiflu or Relenza, can reduce the duration and severity of the flu, but these drugs must be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Most symptoms will disappear by themselves within a week, though a cough and fatigue could persist for a few weeks.
Stay hydrated, get lots of rest, and try appropriate over-the-counter or home remedies. (See Your Cold and Flu Symptoms, Explained.)
When a Cold or the Flu LingersIf your cold symptoms haven’t gotten better―or are worse―after 10 to 14 days, you may have a sinus infection or bacterial bronchitis. This means that bacteria have caused irritation to the main airways of the lungs. Call your doctor; these infections usually require antibiotics.
The worst complication from the flu is bacterial pneumonia. This primarily strikes older adults and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, but healthy people can also get it. Call your doctor if your symptoms disappear and then return or if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, or a severe cough that brings up blood or phlegm.