Who among us hasn’t gotten a common cold, with all of the miserable symptoms that go along with it? Symptoms like a sore throat, chills, muscle aches, coughing, sneezing, runny nose… and the list just goes on and on. Too many times, we run to the doctor right away. We delude ourselves into thinking that since our last cold, he or she might have discovered some new magic cure that will help us get over it right away.
Well, unfortunately, there’s still no medication that is going to help you get through a cold any quicker. And, contrary to what we might think, rather than going to see your doctor, the actual best thing to do is to stay at home, drink warm liquids and take symptomatic treatment. Going to the doctor can actually expose you to more pathogens and also expose others to your virus. Viruses are one of those things that you do not want to share.
So here are a few tips to help you get through that misery.
First of all, get the flu shot. While it doesn’t protect you from getting a cold and doesn’t cover all strands of the flu (there’s just too many of them), it does cover what strands are predicted to be the most prevalent that season. While the flu is a virus and cannot be treated with antibiotics, if you do get it, it will make you feel even more miserable than the common cold. And you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. Let me repeat that. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot.
If at all possible, do everything you can to stay home from work or school. Rather, it’s better to again not expose others or potentially expose yourself. If you have a regular medical provider who you see, they might even be willing to give you an excuse note without seeing you (which is yet another reason to have a regular primary care provider). And it really is better to just wait out the infection rather than running to the doctor. Especially for the common cold, you do not want to go to the ER. Why would you want to expose yourself to every illness that exists in an emergency room? And why would you expose your own virus to someone else in the ER who might be very sick and at a higher risk from getting very ill if they do catch your virus?
Use symptomatic treatment to help you feel better. For a sore throat and chills, drink warm liquids and take Tylenol as needed. Tylenol or Ibuprofen will also help with the muscle aches. For the cough and chest congestion, there’s just nothing that works better than Vicks Vaporub. For a runny nose take an allergy medicine like Benadryl or Loratadine. For a stuffy nose, use a saline nose spray.
To try to keep yourself from getting a cold, wash your hands regularly. Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke. Exercise regularly, drink 6+ cups of water every day, and try to always get at least 6-8 hours of good sleep to keep yourself healthy.
And remember that colds are caused by viruses and cannot be treated with antibiotics, so don’t pester your medical provider about giving you a prescription for one. However, colds may turn into a bacterial infection especially in young children and adults with risk factors (smoking, chronic illnesses, etc). So if you do stay sick for over a week, at that point it is a good idea to see your provider.