Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Combating the Common Cold

Two of the most common over-the-counter supplements for colds are vitamin C and echinacea. Whether they work is a matter of debate. In a study published earlier this year in "Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology," hospital volunteers were tested to see if taking daily echinacea during the winter months would reduce the symptoms of respiratory tract infections compared with symptoms in volunteers taking placebos.

The group that took echinacea daily reported several sick days per person in an eight-week period; the group that took the placebo reported more sick days per person during the same period. The researchers were unable to conclude whether the difference was due to anything more than chance because of the small number of participants.

Similarly, no conclusive evidence has been published indicating that taking vitamin C supplements will reduce the frequency or duration of cold symptoms. Still, "treatment" with either echinacea or vitamin C is generally harmless, so I don't argue with my patients who swear by the effectiveness of these supplements.

But all it really takes is a little attention. If you focus on what I call the "4H" approach, you'll be able to prevent and treat a cold:

Hand-washing. Conscientiously washing your hands after exposure to anyone with a cold will reduce your chances of being infected.

Hydrate. Drink plenty of fluids. Your body loses fluid as a result of fever that may accompany an infection. Cold viruses cause your body to produce excess phlegm, and drinking water will help keep that phlegm from thickening and drying out.

Heat. A fever is nature's way of making your body inhospitable to intruders, so resting in bed and staying warm with blankets can help Mother Nature help you.

Help. Acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents ease muscle aches and pains as well as sore throats; antihistamines help decrease drainage in nasal passages; mucus-thinning agents reduce the thickening and buildup of phlegm; and decongestants work to keep the sinuses more open. Talk with your doctor about the right medicine for your needs.

from USA Weekend Oct 3-5, 2008 edition. http://www.usaweekend.com. Tedd Mitchell, M.D., president and CEO of Dallas' Cooper Clinic, writes HealthSmart every week.

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