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Treatments and drugs

By 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.
References
  1. Gwaltney JM. The common cold. In: Mandell GL, et al. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2005. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/107482514-6/0/1259/1.html?tocnode=51375605&fromURL=1.html. Accessed Oct. 15, 2008.
  2. Health matters: The common cold. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/cold.htm. Accessed Oct. 9, 2008.
  3. Guidelines for the prevention and treatment of influenza and the common cold. American Lung Association. http://www.lungusa.org. Accessed Oct. 9, 2008.
  4. Common cold. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/commonCold/. Accessed Oct. 15, 2008.
  5. Many OTC medications not recommended for cough treatment. American College of Chest Physicians. http://www.chestnet.org. Accessed Oct. 9, 2008.
  6. Mabry RL, et al. Allergic rhinitis. In: Cummings CW, et al. Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 4th ed. St. Louis, Mo.: Mosby; 2005. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/108305975-4/763572162/1263/394.html#4-u1.0-B0-323-01985-4..50045-9--cesec13_1707. Accessed Oct. 24, 2008.
  7. New cough guidelines urge adult whooping cough vaccine. American College of Chest Physicians. http://www.chestnet.org/. Accessed Oct. 15, 2008.
  8. Infant deaths associated with cough and cold medications - United States, 2005. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/media/mmwrnews/2007/n070111.htm. Accessed Oct. 23, 2008.   
  9. Hopkins AB. Chicken soup cure may not be a myth. The Nurse Practitioner. 2003;28(6):16.
  10. Zinc. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Oct. 8, 2008.
  11. Reynolds SA, et al., Hand sanitizer alert. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol12no03/05-0955.htm. Accessed Oct. 3, 2008.
  12. Aminoff MJ, et al. Disorders of cognitive function - Reye syndrome. In: Aminoff MJ, et al. Clinical Neurology. 6th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2005. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=2079232&searchStr=reye+syndrome. Accessed Oct. 24, 2008.
  13. Echinacea. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Oct. 9, 2008.
  14. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Oct. 9, 2008.
  15. Transcript of FDA press conference on cough and cold medicine. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/bbs/transcripts/2008/coughcold_transcript011708.pdf. Accessed Oct. 10, 2008.
  16. FDA statement following CHPA's announcement on nonprescription over-the-counter cough and cold medicines in children. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2008/NEW01899.html. Accessed Oct. 9, 2008.

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Oct. 29, 2008

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