When you have a cold and want immediate relief, how do you know what to take? Dino Messina, MD, PhD, FACP, associate program director of the Internal Medicine Program at Memorial Hospital, says most colds are self-limited and require no medication.

If you must, buy what you need to manage symptoms.

  • Oral decongestants – phenylephrine (Neo-synephrine), pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and topical nasal decongestants (atrovent nasal) – relieve a runny nose and nasal congestion.
  • Topical nasal decongestants (Afrin) can help but only use them for 3 to 5 days.
  • Anti-histamines (Benadryl) help with runny nose and sneezing, but can make you sleepy.
  • NSAIDs (Motrin, Advil) can help relieve body aches, sore throat, headache and fever.
  • For coughs, try dextromethorphan or guaifenesin as an expectorant.

Don’t bother with herbal supplements and vitamins, Messina says, explaining, “No adequate scientific studies to date have shown support for the use of zinc, vitamin C, garlic or Echinacea to prevent or treat colds.”

If over-the-counter medications don’t seem to help, you might want antibiotics for relief. Unfortunately, Messina says antibiotics are over-prescribed and shouldn’t be given for most colds.

“There are rare occasions when a viral infection may progress to bacterial sinusitis or an ear infection or worsen emphysema. In these cases, antibiotics are warranted,” he says.

Staying hydrated and eating what you can tolerate helps your body fight a cold. Messina also suggests avoiding caffeine and alcohol since they can cause dehydration.

Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room, if you have:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Sudden chest or abdominal pain.
  • Sudden dizziness.
  • Severe vomiting that does not go away.

You should also call if your symptoms get worse or do not improve after 7 to 10 days.

Resources For You

The CDC recommends that anyone with the flu stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone. For a list of frequently asked questions on flu, and for more information about flu vaccinations, please visit carenewengland.org/health-alerts.

For more information or a list of family and internal medicine doctors currently accepting new patients please visit Primary Care services at Memorial.