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Best ways to prevent and treat the common cold
January 27th, 2014
01:59 PM ET

Best ways to prevent and treat the common cold

Although the world of medicine has made incredible progress when it comes to tackling certain illnesses, scientists still have not been able to find the cure for the common cold. But there are ways to prevent colds as well as treat them. The question is, which are the most effective?

According to a review in the recent edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, hand washing and possibly taking zinc seem to be the best ways to avoid getting sick. Investigators reviewed 67 randomized controlled trials that showed hand washing as well as alcohol disinfectants are the best ways to ward off colds.

Zinc was found to work mostly in children, with two trials showing that little ones who took 10 to 12 milligrams of zinc sulfate every day had fewer colds and fewer absences from school because of colds. Authors of the study suggest that zinc could work for adults. Vitamin C, the "gold standard" of cold fighters, did not seem as effective.

When it came to treating colds, the review stated that acetaminophen, ibuprofen and perhaps a antihistamine/decongestant were the best ways to keep runny noses, sore throats, fevers and coughs under control.

Ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which are both pain relievers, helped with the aches and fever. Ibuprofen worked better in children who had higher temperatures.

Combining antihistamines with decongestants or pain medication was somewhat effective in older children but not in children under the age of 5 or in adults.

Congestion was more difficult to handle. Nasal spray with ipratropium, which is used to treat serious pulmonary disorders, was found to stop drippy noses but did nothing to cut down on the stuffiness both in the nose and the chest.

Even though there were no major surprises in the findings, doctors said the review does stress the need to wash your hands, something a lot of people don’t do enough of.

"This is a thorough meta- analysis," said Dr. Assil Saleh, an internist with Foxhall Internists in Washington. "It reaffirmed that the fundamental common sense measure of hand washing is the most effective measure to reduce the transmission of respiratory infections caused by viruses or bacteria."

A point was also made that colds are usually viruses, with only about 5% being caused by bacterial infection. Yet, many patients with colds are prescribed antibiotics, which don't help.

"Treatment typically aims to relieve symptoms rather than eradicate the infection itself, "noted Saleh. "It's important to emphasize that bacteria-killing antibiotics are often overused in treating what is almost always a viral illness."

While doctors shouldn't be prescribing antibiotics for colds, patients should their part and not insist on antibiotics. If they are used too often for things they can't treat, they can stop working effectively against bacteria when you or your child really needs them.   The CDC has been concerned about antibiotic resistance for years and considers it to be one of the world's most critical public health threats.

According to the review, the common cold affects adults approximately two to three times a year and children under the age of 2 about six times a year. A strong cold can keep people in bed, knocking many of them out their routines for a week or longer. That’s why doctors say prevention is so important.

"Although self-limiting, the common cold is highly prevalent and may be debilitating, " says review authors Drs Michael Allan, from the Department of Family Medicine, University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada, and Bruce Arroll with the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland in New Zealand. "It causes declines in function and productivity at work and may affect other activities such as driving."

And that, the authors say, is nothing to sneeze at.

 


soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Scott

    No mention of sinus rinse? Not a comprehensive study then, IMO. Rinsing the sinuses decreases the proliferation of viruses and helps relieve congestion. Reduces the duration and severity of my colds without question.

    January 27, 2014 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Robert

      Please show us a peer-reviewed study confirming your assertions.

      January 27, 2014 at 16:21 | Report abuse |
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  2. svann

    My cats get colds sometimes. Im not sure how that happens though since they have no contact with other cats.

    January 27, 2014 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. cali girl

    As an asthma patient, a doctor gave me some great advice. My colds go right into my lungs and have been to the ER for just a cough. Drink 1 hot cup of liquid per hour, as hot as you can take it. Coffee is ok, but not 10 cups a day. Decaf tea, hot water with lemon and honey, apple cider heated up, anything you can stand and do it all day for 1-3 days.
    This was a miracle for me. As soon as I feel the cold coming, I start with the hot liquids right away. And like Scott above, try a neti pot. Make sure your water is sterilized, boil first then cool to room temp before using.

    January 27, 2014 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • big richard

      I prefer lots of seksual stimulation just to the point of orkasm. Builds the immune system.

      January 28, 2014 at 16:12 | Report abuse |
    • cali girl

      Come on over, big dick. We'll fight the cold together ; )

      January 29, 2014 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
  4. Kofi

    Isn't the same people that said vitamins dont work ? or Zinc is not a vitamin?

    January 27, 2014 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      Nope, Zinc is a mineral. Vitamins and minerals are two different things.

      January 28, 2014 at 11:14 | Report abuse |
  5. Arturo Féliz-Camilo

    Reblogged this on Mr. Feliz's Blog (Teacher Arturo).

    January 28, 2014 at 21:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Galina L.

    Since I started a low-carbohydrate diet at 2007, I had no single flu or infection. Many report the same experience.

    January 29, 2014 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Get a grip

      So what? Your anecdotes aren't statistically significant. Unless you have a peer-reviewed study to back up your results, nobody cares.

      February 9, 2014 at 11:37 | Report abuse |
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