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Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
There's no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics are of no use against cold viruses. Over-the-counter cold preparations won't cure a common cold or make it go away any sooner, and most have side effects. Here's a look at the pros and cons of some common cold remedies.
- Pain relievers. For fever, sore throat and headache, many people turn to acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or other mild pain relievers. Keep in mind that acetaminophen can cause liver damage, especially if taken frequently or in larger than recommended doses. Be especially careful when giving acetaminophen to children because the dosing guidelines can be confusing. For instance, the infant-drop formulation is much more concentrated than the syrup commonly used in older children. Never give aspirin to children. It has been associated with Reye's syndrome — a rare but potentially fatal illness.
- Decongestant nasal sprays. Adults shouldn't use decongestant drops or sprays for more than a few days because prolonged use can cause chronic inflammation of mucous membranes. And children shouldn't use decongestant drops or sprays at all. There's little evidence that they work in young children, and they may cause side effects.
- Cough syrups. In winter, nonprescription cough syrups practically fly off the drugstore shelves. But the American College of Chest Physicians strongly discourages the use of these medications because they're not effective at treating the underlying cause of cough due to colds. Some contain ingredients that may alleviate coughing, but the amounts are too small to do much good and may actually be harmful for children. In fact, the college recommends against using OTC cough syrups or cold medicines for anyone younger than age 14. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly recommends against giving OTC cough and cold medicines to children younger than age 2. Meantime, under an agreement announced by manufacturers in late 2008, several brands of OTC cold and cough medications began carrying a warning that these products should not be used in children under 4. For young children, an accidental overdose could be fatal. Coughs associated with a cold usually last less than two to three weeks. If a cough lingers longer than that, see your doctor.
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