Treating Coughs and Colds

Upper respiratory infections, that are commonly called “colds” are usually caused by viruses. Most people have healthy immune systems that can fight off a viral infection. With viral infections you may expect symptoms of runny nose to last about 7-10 days and cough can persist for up to 2 weeks. With viral infections you may also have a fever, as your body’s immune system activates to fight off the infection for up to 4-5 days. Supportive care at home, and medications if needed for your symptoms to allow up to get through this time can be helpful.

Why not antibiotics ?

Most common colds improve without antibiotics. Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed increases resistance to antibiotics in the circulating bacteria in the community. Also, when antibiotics are taken the normal bacteria in our intestines that help with food digestion are also disrupted, this can lead to other gastrointestinal problems.

What is supportive care for cold, cough or sore throat?

The best way to treat most colds, coughs or sore throats is to

● Drink plenty of fluids.
● Get enough rest.
● Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer
● Breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower
● Ask your healthcare professional or pharmacist about over-the-counter medicines that can help symptoms of fever, runny nose, congestion and cough. Under the age of 6 years ask your physician before using over the counter medications.

When to Seek Medical Care?

See a healthcare professional if you or your child has any of the following symptoms:
● Fever for more than 5 days with symptoms of illness. Fever for more than 72 hours without other signs or symptoms of illness.
● Symptoms that last more than 10 days.
● Persistent or painful sore throat.
● Cough for more than 2 weeks or is causing fast breathing, chest pain or wheezing.
● Severe symptoms.
● People with underlying reactive airway disease or asthma may have symptoms triggered and made worse with cold viruses and may need medication.

When is it ok for you or your child to take antibiotics?

There are some bacterial infections that do require antibiotic treatment, such as streptococcal pharyngitis. If you or your child needs antibiotics, make sure you take them exactly as prescribed. Your doctor or pharmacist will explain how to take the antibiotics, some need to be taken on an empty stomach and some have to be taken with food. Make sure you finish the full course as prescribed by your physician, to get rid of the bacteria completely.

There are some antiviral medications available but are not usually needed for upper respiratory infection. One exception for which antiviral medication has been useful is for influenza. Antiviral medication may be given in the treatment of influenza in those less than 2 years old, or with underlying conditions that may make one more susceptible to complications.

Precaution is better than cure!

● Practice good hand hygiene
● Keep you and your child up to date with recommended vaccines
● Always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing

References:

Reviewed by:  Dr. Purvi P. Bhandari Springfield, IL, USA

Infectious Disease, Pediatrics


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