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Cold symptoms: What medicines are effective

We have all experienced the low grade fevers, sore throat, stuffy nose and cough that come with the dreaded “common cold”. Antibiotics won’t help as it is viral. The good news is that symptoms are generally self limiting and resolved by 10 days.

There are many over the counter treatment options, but what really works? For infants and young children, skin the cough medication. In 2 separate studies they showed no benefit vs placebo. (However, the risk for medication associated adverse events went up with use.) Medication made with Pelargonium sidoides (medication made from the African Geranium) may help resolve cough and sputum production in children with common cold. Saline nasal sprays (age 6-10) may have some benefit, as may vapor rubs (2 and up), and zinc (check with your health care provider for dosing). In healthy children, probiotics such as lactobacillus alone or in combinations may reduce the incidence of cold symptoms and prescribed antibiotics.

In adults, oral or topical decongestants with or without an antihistamine have proven beneficial for nasal congestion. (some health restrictions apply, check with your provider first) Dextromethorphan and Guaifenesin (ingredients in common cough/congestion medications) may or may not have some benefit but the research is conflicting. Pelargonium sidoides was found to reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms. Use of Zinc products and Echinacea also shorten the length of the cold but only if taken early. (If using Zinc, avoid intranasal formulation as it can potentially cause irreversible loss of smell.)

For prevention of illness few medications have proven effective. Vitamin C won’t stop you from getting sick but may shorten how long you are ill. Hand washing, getting plenty of rest and a healthy diet and lifestyle are still the best preventative measures.

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