Welcome to another cold season. If you're like most adults, you'll likely have two to four colds in 2007. Children, especially preschoolers, have it worse, getting as many as eight to 10 colds annually.
The January issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource offers insights on how you can avoid "catching" a cold and how to relieve symptoms:
It's a virus, not the temperature, that causes colds. When temperatures dip, most people spend more time indoors — where they may have prolonged contact with others who may be sick. You "catch," or acquire the cold by having hand-to-hand contact with someone who has a cold or by using shared objects such as doorknobs, computer keyboards or telephones. Once you touch your mouth, nose or eyes after such exposure, you can acquire a cold. The lesson: wash your hands often and thoroughly, especially if you have been around someone who has a cold.
Chicken soup — and other fluids — can improve symptoms. Drinking plenty of liquids, such as water, juice, clear broth or chicken soup helps loosen mucus that can cause congestion and helps prevent dehydration. Warm liquids can help ease a sore throat.
Humidity helps. You can ease congestion and coughing by using a cool mist humidifier, leaning over a bowl or sink of hot water with a towel over your head, or breathing in steamy air created by a bathroom shower.
Pain relievers reduce fever and headaches. Acetaminophen will reduce a fever and ease sore throat pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) — including aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, also are an option but can cause stomach upset.
Decongestants help ease stuffiness. They shrink swollen tissue inside the noses. But decongestant sprays or drops can worsen congestion if used more than two or three days. Talk with your doctor before using a decongestant if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, glaucoma, thyroid problems or diabetes. Saline nose drops or sprays also ease congestion.
Skip the antihistamines. Often used to treat allergies, antihistamines aren't the best for colds because they dry up nasal membranes and slow the mucus flow that helps rid your nasal passages of germs.
Cough medications might not help. Nonprescription cough medications are considered safe, but many doctors, including those with the American College of Chest Physicians, say cough medications don't help much.
There are no miracles with vitamins, herbs and minerals. Most studies don't support using vitamin C, echinacea or zinc as cold remedies. Ionized zinc lozenges, however, may shorten the duration of symptoms.
Hang in there for about a week. That's how long most colds last. If your symptoms seem severe and more flu-like — high fever, body aches and loss of appetite — see your doctor. Prescription antiviral drugs may reduce the severity and duration of influenza, but only if taken within the first 48 hours after the onset of symptoms.