How to Treat a Cold and Cough

I should know better than to go into a hospital and touch anything and then not clean my hands. I teach it, I preach it. And I thought I was doing it until last week when I was visiting my sister. I was in the surgery waiting room waiting to hear from the surgeon and reception announces a call for the Jones family. It was the operating room giving us an update. Stupid me, I go up pick up the community telephone and talk to the OR nurse. I was listening so hard so I could report back to the family, I forgot all about my hands even though my number two rule is never touch a public phone without washing your hands! Number one is never use a public bathroom without washing your hands!

In the course of a year, people in the United States suffer one billion colds. So, as luck would have it, I caught a cold from that phone, which then turned into a severe cough and I have been worthless for a week—all because I knew better and didn’t do better. So for those of you who catch a cold, these are self-care measures you can take. I managed to shake my cold in 6 days, which is pretty short. I hate being sick, so I didn’t just treat it—I fought it! Here’s what you need to know and do.

Facts About a Cold

• There are over 200 viruses that can give you a cold
• Colds are often spread through shaking hands
• Colds are the most common disease in the world
• In the course of a year, people in the United States suffer 1 billion colds
• You cannot cure a cold, you can only treat the symptoms
• The best thing you can do is prevent the spread of colds and coughs using good hygiene
• Mouthwash will not prevent a cold
• Antibiotics will not cure a cold
• Green or yellow nasal discharge is not a sign that you need antibiotics
• Taking Vitamin C will not prevent a cold, but there is evidence it can help shorten a cold

How Germs Spread

A cold is caused by viruses that infect the lining of the nose, sinuses, throat, and lungs. The virus usually spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes germs into the air called “droplet spread.” Germs enter the blood stream when the contaminated air is breathed in. Also, germs can get on your hands by touching surfaces that are contaminated with respiratory droplets that contain the virus, such as wet areas in a restroom or kitchen. Once the germs are on your hands, they get into your body when you touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth. Once you are infected with the virus, you can spread germs to others by touching surfaces that others touch (such as door knobs and telephones) after you cough or sneeze into your hands, or not covering your nose when you sneeze or mouth when you cough.

If you have a cold, try to avoid spreading the infection to others—usually during the early stages of the infection.

Preventing a Cold

There are several things you can do to prevent a cold—they are all easy and inexpensive and worth the effort.

Stop the Spread of Germs by Washing Your Hands

Clean your hands: Wash your hands often — with soap and warm water — rub your hands together vigorously, scrubbing all surfaces including backs of hands, between fingers, under fingernails and wrists. Wash for 30 seconds. The soap lather combined with the scrubbing helps dislodge and remove germs. The germs stick to the soap and get washed down the drain. Rinse your hands well while keeping them lower than your elbows so the dirty water runs down the drain and not your arms. Always wash your hands after coughing or sneezing into your hands, blowing your nose, after touching someone who is sick, or when using public restrooms or telephones.

Dry your hands well
Use paper towels to dry your hands and to turn off the faucet. If you are in a public restroom, use the paper towel to open the restroom door.

If soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. Be sure to buy sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol. When using a gel, rub the gel over all hand surfaces until your hands are dry. The gel doesn’t need water to work; the alcohol in the gel kills germs that cause colds and the flu. If your hands look dirty, use soap & water.

Cover Your Mouth and Nose When You Sneeze or Cough

Cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or sleeve. Clean your hands every time you cough or sneeze. Make sure all trash cans for tissues have liners; throw the liners out with the trash.

Avoid Touching Your Eyes, Nose, or Mouth

Germs are often spread when a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs can live for 2 hours or more on dry surfaces like doorknobs, desks, and tables and even longer on areas that are wet like sinks and faucets.

Stay Home When You’re Sick; Check With Your Doctor

Practice Other Good Health Habits

– Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, don’t smoke, manage stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food so you can fend off viruses.
– Avoid people who have a cold or cold symptoms.
– Teach kids how to wash their hands and how to sneeze or cough into their elbow or sleeve.
– Humidify your bedroom or the whole house if possible during the winter.
– Routinely clean and disinfect common areas of your home.

Cold Symptoms and Treatments

There is a gradual 1-3 day onset of symptoms. It often starts out as a sore throat, then a fever and coughing. As the cold progresses, the nasal mucus may thicken which is the last stage before the cold dries up. A cold usually lasts for a week or two. But, taking good care of yourself at home can relieve symptoms and help prevent complications if you are otherwise healthy. Unless you develop complications, you shouldn’t need medical treatment. Complications include bacterial infections of the ears, throat, sinuses or lungs which must be treated with antibiotics.

Sometimes a cold will progress to pneumonia or bronchitis. Older adults and people with diabetes, heart disease, or COPD are the most likely to have complications of infection, pneumonia or bronchitis. A high fever suggest you have more than just a cold.

In general you should:
• get plenty of rest so your body can use its energy to fight the cold
• staying at home will keep you from spreading germs
• drink plenty of liquids like herbal tea or hot broth. Avoid foods or drinks with caffeine which can keep you from getting enough sleep
• don’t take cold remedies that combine medicines for different symptoms. It’s best to treat only the symptoms you have and treat them separately so you don’t get side effects from medicines you don’t need. Also, if you have side effects, you won’t know which ingredient caused the problem.

Runny Nose and Sneezing

• if you have post nasal drip, gargle to keep from getting a sore throat
• use disposable tissues instead of handkerchiefs to reduce the spread of germs
• keep the mucous thin and not thick and sticky. This helps prevent complications, such as ear and sinus infections, and plugging of your nasal passages. To thin the mucous:
– Drink extra fluids. (avoid sugary and high calorie drinks)
– Increase the humidity in the air with a vaporizer or humidifier.
– Use saline nasal sprays or nasal irrigation
• Antihistamines may reduce the amount of mucous. Be careful, because some antihistamines can make you drowsy.

Red, Watering Eyes

• eye drops

Nasal Stuffiness

• Humidify the rooms you are in most or your whole house if possible.
• Use a nasal decongestant. Using nasal sprays for longer than 3 days can lead to “rebound” where your sinus membranes swell up more than before you started the spray. Don’t use over-the-counter nasal sprays more often than 3 days on and 3 days off, unless prescribed by your doctor.

Note: some decongestants are harmful for people with thyroid disease, glaucoma, diabetes, or enlarged prostate. Talk to the pharmacist if you have any of these conditions and buying a decongestant.

Sore Throat

Excess mucous may run down the back of your throat (postnasal drip) and cause a sore throat. If you have post nasal drip, gargle to keep from getting a sore throat. Gargling with warm, salt water can help. Gargling with mouthwash doesn’t help.


Cough syrupCoughing is how your body gets rid of debris and mucus from the airways during a viral infection. Unless your cough is severe or is keeping you from resting at night, it is better not to treat it. A severe cough can be treated with a cough suppressant, but don’t try to completely stop the cough.

There are two types of coughs. Productive and non-productive or dry cough.

Non-productive, dry cough. A dry, hacking cough may develop near the end of a cold. Dry coughs that follow viral colds are often worse at night and can last up to several weeks. Take over-the-counter cough medicine which has dextromethorphan for a dry cough. Cough drops can sooth an irritated throat, but most don’t affect the cough.

A dry cough can hang around long after other cold symptoms are gone. A dry cough can last for weeks; talking, eating or drinking cold foods can aggravate your throat and cause you to start coughing. Lying down can also start you to coughing again. If all you have is a dry cough and it’s bothering you, try taking an over-the-counter medicine for coughs only.

Productive cough. A productive cough is one that brings up mucus from the back of the throat or the lungs. Productive coughs should not be suppressed to the point they no longer bring up mucus. Use an expectorant cough syrup containing guaifenesin to thin mucus and make it easier for a productive cough to clear mucus. Drink lots of water if you have a productive cough.

Ear aches

The mucous drainage from your sinuses may plug up the eustachian tube between the nose and the ear, causing an ear infection and pain. Don’t blow your nose so hard that you blow the mucus into these tubes.

Head and Body Aches

The mucous drip may also plug the sinus passages, causing sinus infection and pain.
• Take aspirin, acetaminophen, ketoprofen, or ibuprofen. Do Not give aspirin to children!


If you think you have a fever, take your temperature. Call if your doctor if fever persist despite treatment:
– 102°-103°F for more than 1 full day
– 101°-102°F for more than 2 full days
– 100°-101°F for more than 3 full days

When to Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of bacterial infection which include:

• Fever of 103°F or higher that does not go down after 2 hours of home treatment
• Persistent fever: Many viruses causes fevers of 102°F for 12 to 24 hours. Call if your fever persist despite treatment at home
– 102°-103°F for more than 1 full day
– 101°-102°F for more than 2 full days
– 100°-101°F for more than 3 full days
• Wheezing or difficulty breathing that is new or different
• Coughing that produces mucus and you have a fever at or above 100°F
• Coughing that produces thick, yellow-green or gray mucus
• Sinus pain with a fever or yellow or green nasal discharge
• Sore throat with a fever, or white or yellow spots on the tonsils or obvious swelling in the neck glands
• An ear ache that lasts longer than 24 hours
• A cough that brings up blood
• A productive cough that lasts more than 7-10 days after other symptoms have stopped

What to do if your newborn gets a cold

Newborns are very vulnerable to infection and should be watched carefully if they get sick. What to do if your newborn gets a cold