Cough, Cold and Flu Medications

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The Cold Facts

  • Cough
    is the No.1

    illness-related reason people see their doctor.

    Source: CDC
  • 66% of adults

    try to tough it out and go to work when they're sick.

    Source: 2015 Harris Poll
  • Mucus color

    and consistency varies. Talk to a doctor to look at other factors.

    Source: Cedars-Sinai
  • 39% of
    sick people

    said their cold started with a sore or scratchy throat.

    Source: Current Medical Research and Opinion
Get better sooner. Connect with healthcare providers in person, on your phone or online. See services.
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Q&A: Cough, Cold & Flu
Just how common is the common cold? Adults catch a cold on average two to three times a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But what causes them? What are the symptoms? And how do you seek relief?
  • What is a cold?
    A cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. The symptoms of a cold can vary from person to person. They often include nasal congestion, runny nose, scratchy or sore throat and cough. Anyone can catch a cold, but young kids, people with weaker immune systems and smokers are more likely.
  • What causes a cold?
    Colds are caused by viruses, most often rhinoviruses. Colds are contagious, which means that they can be easily transmitted from person to person. When a sick person coughs, sneezes and talks, droplets of their saliva can be left on surfaces or breathed in by others.
  • How long does it take to catch a cold?
    Once a cold virus enters your body, you may begin to feel sick within one to three days.
  • How long is a cold contagious?
    A person is most contagious during the first two to three days after cold symptoms begin. In general, a cold is no longer contagious after the first week.
  • How can you prevent a cold?
    While it's not possible to completely prevent colds, you can take a few precautions to lower your risk of catching one. Wash your hands often using water and soap. Scrub for at least 20 seconds to rid your hands of germs. Try to avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes, especially if your hands are not freshly washed. If you know someone has a cold, do your best to avoid close contact, and be cautious in public areas.
  • How to stop a cold?
    There is no scientifically proven way to stop a cold once it starts.
  • How to cure a cold?
    Colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria, so antibiotics are not effective. At this time, there is no prescription or over-the-counter medication available to cure a cold.
  • What can pregnant women take for a cold?
    Generally, pregnant women can take acetaminophen to reduce fevers and ease headaches related to colds. Some cough drops and lozenges are considered safe for soothing a sore throat, and over-the-counter liquid dextromethorphan may be recommended for a cough. Saline nasal rinses and sprays are also considered safe during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and have a cold, you should always check with your healthcare provider before using any over-the-counter medicine or natural remedy to address your symptoms.
  • What is a head cold?
    A "head cold" is a term some people use to describe symptoms of a cold that are more focused around the head.
  • How do you catch a cold?
    You can catch a cold by breathing in or touching something contaminated with a sick person's saliva droplets, and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • How long does a cold last?
    Most people recover from the common cold within seven to 10 days. Some people may develop complications from colds, such as pneumonia, especially older adults, those with weaker immune systems and asthma or respiratory problems.
  • Can you have a fever with a cold?
    You can have a low-grade fever with a cold, although this is uncommon for most adults. Adults with fevers over 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit and children with a rising fever or a fever that lasts more than two days should seek medical attention. If a child under 12 weeks of age has a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or more, you should contact his or her pediatrician.
  • How to get rid of a cold?
    Colds can't be treated with antibiotics because they are caused by viruses. Viruses don't respond to antibiotics. This means you must wait for the illness to run its course. You can help your recovery by getting lots of rest and drinking plenty of fluids, and you can use over-the-counter medications to address symptoms in the meantime.
  • How to shorten a cold?
    In the past, people have used many natural remedies to try and shorten the duration of colds. Today, some scientists believe zinc lozenges and the herb echinacea may have the ability to decrease recovery time. However, research on their effectiveness is conflicting. Vitamin C is another traditional remedy for colds. Despite its long history of use for this purpose, most studies show that Vitamin C does not have an effect on the length of colds.
  • What to take for a cold?
    There are a number of over-the-counter medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for addressing cold symptoms. Pain relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be taken for fevers and headaches. Nasal decongestant sprays , like oxymetazoline and phenylephrine, and oral decongestants, like pseudoephedrine, can ease stuffy nose symptoms. Guaifenesin can loosen mucus, while Dextromethorphan can help suppress the urge to cough. Always read the label and use medications as directed. Talk to your doctor before giving your child an over-the-counter cold medication since some medicines contain ingredients that aren't recommended for children.

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