How to Best Address a Cold

Published Online: Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

Katarzyna Lalicata, MSN, FNP-C, FNP-BC, discusses best practices for addressing a cold.


Katarzyna Lalicata: Colds usually come on anywhere from 1 to 3 days after exposure to a virus, such as rhinovirus. Other viruses that can cause colds include the adenovirus, human coronavirus, human metapneumovirus, human parainfluenza virus, and respiratory syncytial virus. Symptoms may include body aches, congestion, a cough, low-grade fever, malaise, mild headache, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and sore throat.

It is important to rest and drink plenty of fluids. It is best to avoid alcohol and caffeine during times of illness. Eat soup or other warm fluids. Use a cool mist humidifier, but make sure to keep it clean as per the manufacturer instructions. Use a saline spray for nasal congestion, and gargle with salt water for a sore throat. Zinc has been shown to be effective if taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Be aware, however, that the FDA has issued a warning because of long-lasting or permanent loss of smell associated with intranasal zinc. 

To help prevent the spread of a cold, it is important to wash one’s hands, linens, and utensils often and thoroughly. Avoid touching doorknobs or handles directly. A face mask can be worn for those who are coughing and/or sneezing.

Other treatments include OTC relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Make sure to read the label and use according to package instructions. Aspirin should not be used in children or teenagers, especially those recovering from the chicken pox or flu-like symptoms. Reyes syndrome is a life-threatening condition linked to aspirin use in children. 

OTC cold and cough medications should not be given to children under 4, according to the FDA.

In addition, research has shown little benefit to young children and a potential for serious adverse effects and with combinations medications, the chance of accidental overdose, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Rather, a saline nasal spray and a simple bulb syringe can help stuffy noses.

OTC cold preparations may be used for adults and older children, but follow the label directions and do not combine medications with the same ingredients, such as acetaminophen, antihistamine, or decongestant, because of the risk of accidental overdose.

Decongestant nasal spray may be used for adults for a maximum of 5 days, but children younger than 6 should not use these at all.
Some cold complications in children include an ear, sinus or secondary infection, such as bronchiolitis, pneumonia, or streptococcal pharyngitis. These infections must be treated by a health care provider.



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The Educated Patient

Katarzyna Lalicata, MSN, FNP-C, FNP-BC
The symptoms associated with colds, most commonly congestion, coughing, sneezing, and sore throats, are the body's response when a virus exerts its effects on the immune system. Cold symptoms peak at about 1 to 2 days and last 7 to 10 days but can last up to 3 weeks.
Kristen L. Marjama, DNP, APRN-BC, FNP
Exposure to damp and moly environments may also result in a variety of other health issues.
Bethany Rettberg, NPC
An accurate medical history and a physical exam are critical to rule out more serious conditions.
Bethany Rettberg, NPC
Practitioners should get a detailed medical history and conduct a thorough physical to treat sinus infections.
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