Despite frequent hand washings and huge doses of vitamin C, you have the flu. Or at least a nasty cold. It's easy to confuse the two; both are viral respiratory infections, and both make you feel pretty miserable.
No cure exists for the common cold, but the flu can be relieved if treated within the first 48 hours with prescription flu prevention drugs. Proper medications also can relieve the misery caused by sore throat, congestion, aches and pains, coughs and fatigue. So can a good cup of hot tea, wrapping up in a favorite soft blanket and getting lots of rest.
"The things your mother told you to do are still valid—plenty of fluids, good nutrition and rest," says Dr. Larry Fields, a family physician in Ashland, Ky.
Over-the-counter medications, taken properly, can ease you through the sneezing and sniffles. Here are some other good ideas to help you get your back on your feet.
Aches. For aches, pains and fever, take aspirin, acetamenophen or an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, Fields suggests. However, if you're taking other medication for a chronic condition, check with your family doctor before taking any over-the-counter medication, Fields cautions. Liquids are particularly important if you have a fever, which dehydrates the body.
Coughing. Coughs should be treated with dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant that also loosens congestion, Fields says.
Sore throat. Commercial sprays and a salt-water gargle provide relief, but Fields recommends a physicians' "trade secret": mix equal parts of liquid antihystamine containing diphenhydramine and a liquid antacid and use as a gargle. The antihystamine acts as a topical anesthetic on mucus membranes to soothe the throat, and the antacid makes it adhere to the surface, Fields says.
Congestion. Nasal decongestants can relieve a stuffy nose, provided you don't have high blood pressure or a rapid heart rate, Fields says. The drug in decongestants elevates blood pressure, he cautions. Chest congestion can be relieved by medicines like Mucinex that contain an expectorant, which loosens mucus to make coughs more productive.
Drink plenty of fluids such as water, juices, and decaffeinated herbal teas, the American Lung Association recommends. Eight glasses a day are preferred to keep the lining of the nose and throat from drying out so that mucus remains moist and flows out of the body. Avoid coffee, tea, or soft drinks that contain caffeine and cause dehydration.
Fatigue. Rest is vital in colds and flu recovery, though many people continue their hectic schedules throughout their illness. Rest is as good for you as any medication, Fields says, because it allows your body to conserve the energy it needs to fight infection.
You can also pick up over the counter Multisymptom products like the new Mucinex® Fast-Max ™ liquids to relieve your worst cold symptoms.