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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Treatment

Although medical therapies can improve the symptoms of the common cold, they do not prevent, cure or shorten the illness. Drink enough fluids, get plenty of rest and treat your symptoms to keep yourself as comfortable as possible. Gargling warm salt water can soothe a sore throat. Inhaling steam may improve nasal congestion temporarily. Over-the-counter cold remedies that contain a decongestant will help to dry secretions and relieve congestion. These remedies may also relieve cough, if the cough is triggered by mucus in the throat. Antihistamines may improve the symptoms of runny nose and watery eyes, but they should be used with care because over-the-counter versions cause sedation. Over-the-counter cough suppressants do not have a proven benefit, but some people feel that they are helpful. It is important to keep in mind that antibiotics do not cure the common cold or shorten the length of time that symptoms last. Vitamin C and echinacea (a frequently used herbal therapy) have been widely rumored to decrease the likelihood of developing the common cold and to shorten symptoms, but no conclusive research has shown that this is true. Zinc-containing products advertised to treat the common cold remain popular. Some studies suggest that zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of symptoms, but questions remain regarding the best and safest dose.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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