Cold Season – It’s snot funny

It’s beginning to be that time of year again. All the kids just went back to school and what does that mean? Germs are getting spread around and cold season is right around the corner. How do I prevent this? When do I need to see a doctor? What are the best things to buy over the counter to help my symptoms? If you ask yourself any of these questions when you feel like you’re coming down with something, then this blog post is for you. 

**Disclaimer: this is a short article to help give you some information about cold prevention and treatment, but it is not a replacement for talking to a healthcare professional**

So how do we prevent theses annoying colds? 

Well there is no proven way to completely prevent yourself from catching a cold but there are some things you can do to try to decrease your risk.

First things first is hand washing! I know this seems silly because we all know we need to wash our hands, but it is always good to have a reminder! Make sure you wash your hands before you eat or touch your mouth, nose, ears, eyes because viruses and bacteria can enter through all those places. If soap and water aren’t available hand sanitizers work as well, but these are never a replacement for plain old soap and water! With the kids try to get them into the habit of doing the same thing but also make sure to us use antiviral/antibacterial wipes to wipe down toys and other shared items after they are done with them.

Secondly, disposable medical face masks. Though this isn’t as common in Canada to see people walking around with face masks on, but this is a great practice in the eastern side of the world. Anyone that you see with a face mask on is usually wearing it because they don’t feel great and are trying to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria. It may not be the most fashionable thing, but you can buy them online for very cheap or you can buy patterned ones if that suits you better. So, try to prevent the spread and use a face mask as well as making sure you cough or sneeze into your elbow! This way you don’t cough/sneeze into your hand and then go open a door or shake someone’s hand and spread more germs around.

Next is taking care of yourself. Make sure you are drinking enough fluids each day and getting enough sleep. When we are stressed and not giving our bodies the rest we need this lowers our immune systems efficacy and makes us more prone to getting sick!! The recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-9 hours each night so it is important to get some zzz’s to prevent yourself from getting sick. For more info on sleep in children click here and adults click here. Also remember to be drinking at least 6-8 glasses of 250 ml each day!!

Lastly are supplements you can buy over the counter. There are two supplements that have data shown to decrease duration and severity of a cold. These are zinc and echinacea. As soon as you feel a cold coming on with that annoying scratchy feeling in your throat or just feeling achy all over – try taking zinc or echinacea. Echinacea can decrease symptom severity and duration by about 1.5 days. Zinc has also shown evidence to decrease symptom severity and duration, but only if taken within 48 hours of onset of cold.

On top of this remember it is always important to be getting all your vitamins and minerals from the food you eat every day. If you are not able to get enough from your diet daily multivitamins may also be a good idea to add to your regimen. If you’re having difficulty with this, you can always talk to a pharmacist or nutritionist about other ways to improve.

Other things that put you at risk of getting sick include:

  • Working in child-care or children and caregivers of child attending child-care
  • Weakened immune system from chronic illness
  • Smoking – people who smoke are more likely to get sick and typically have a longer duration of a cold

When do I go to the doctor?

If you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever > 38.5 C (101.3 F) (in children >38 C/100.4 F up to 12 weeks)
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • thick, yellow, tan or green mucus that you cough up
  • cough with fever
  • cough lasting >7 days or comes and goes
  • unintended weight loss
  • foreign object aspiration
  • coughing up blood
  • drenching night sweats
  • worsening of symptoms or development of additional symptoms during self-treatment
  • medical history of chronic cardiopulmonary diseases (asthma, COPD, bronchitis, heart failure)
  • if you have AIDS or are taking chronic immunosuppressant therapy
  • hypersensitivity to recommended over the counter medications
  • any extreme pain (and in children ear pain, extreme fussiness, drowsiness or lack of appetite)

What can best treat my symptoms?

Let me take you on a quick tour of the cold section of a pharmacy. There are a ton of brand names out there so I am going to tell you the medicinal ingredients to look for on the box to treat the symptoms you may be having. Remember great advertising can go a long way but there are usually generics of many of the brands that can help you save a few dollars.

Let us start with non-pharmacologic treatment options:

  • Vaporizers/Humidifiers help soothe cough (Vick’s vapo rub can also help)
  • Armoatic oils – camphor, menthol or eucalyptus oils to help clear sinuses
  • Neti-pot à these can be helpful with clearing out your nasal sinuses but it is extremely important to boil water or use distilled water for a neti-pot due to risk of a brain-eating ameba from normal tap water
  • Lozenges – cough and sore throat
    • Menthol and zinc options also available
  • Hydration and rest – drinks lots of water and get some sleep!
  • Honey – soothing effect for cough (Cannot use in children <1 year old)
  • Tea with lemon and honey or chicken soup

Now let us head over to our pharmacologic treatment options:

  • Antihistamines – these are typically what you look for during allergy season, but they can also be great for colds if you have a runny nose. The way these work is they dry up your secretions so you don’t need to wipe your nose every couple minutes.
    • Names of antihistamines that won’t make you sleepy include cetirizine (Reactine), loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra). 
    • Names of antihistamines that you may want to take closer to bedtime include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Doxylamine (included in Nyquil), Brompheniramine (Dimetapp), pheniramine (Theraflu products).
    • Side effects of these products have a fun way to remember them:
      • Can’t see (dry eyes)
      • Can’t spit (decreased salivation)
      • Can’t pee (urinary retention)
      • Can’t *poop* (I am sure you can guess what was supposed to rhyme there à constipation).
    • Due to these side effects they are not recommended in people older than 65 years old.
  • Decongestants
    • Nasal sprays: look for ingredients such as oxymetazoline, naphazoline, phenylephrine
      • Due to risk of rebound congestion these are only recommended to use for 3 days!!
    • Oral medications: pseudoephedrine (kept behind the counter, but is also in some combination medications), phenylephrine (in many combination cold medicine products)
      • Not recommended for anyone with pre-existing heart conditions, uncontrolled blood pressure, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, glaucoma, prostatic hypertrophy
  • Cough suppressants – do you have a dry annoying cough? Then this means you need to look out for dextromethorphan! This drug is great at increasing your cough threshold, so you don’t feel the need to cough as much. It is important to note that this medication should not be used more than indicated on the label and should not be taken along with any depressants including alcohol.
  • Cough expectorants – do you keep coughing up gross gunky stuff? Well the best thing for that is to either drink water or take guaifenesin to help you cough it out. This loosens and thins the mucus to help you get it out. Do not use this product for a chronic cough or smoker’s cough.

This is just a short list of examples of ways to help treat your cold and is NOT a replacement for talking to a pharmacist for any concerns you may have. Make sure to always ask a pharmacist about any drug interactions or health conditions you may have to find the appropriate therapy for you. Lastly, I want to make a note that it is important to know all of the medicinal ingredients in the medication you are taking because many combination products have acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) included and you want to make sure you aren’t also taking either those products for risk of overdose. I hope this little blog helps empower you to make the best decisions to get you feeling well.

Have questions or thoughts? Comment below!

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