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Feed a cold, starve a fever. Or is it starve a cold, feed a fever? Oh, heck, who feels well enough to eat anything anyway? Just pass the tissues.
"Common" cold? Ha! What's so common about it? Unless they mean that, this time of year, we all have in common the sniffles, the sneezes, the hacking cough and the other reminders that cold season has begun.
And if it's not a cold, it's the flu.
What's a body to do?
Until scientists come up with a cure for colds and flu, we suggest trying one or more of these ways to win the battle, or at least make yourself less miserable.
1. OTC pain relief
Acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen can reduce your fever or achiness. But read and follow directions: Just because they're sold without a prescription doesn't mean they're harmless. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Aspirin isn't for children, because of the risk of Reye's syndrome. Ibuprofen may upset your stomach.
The world will go on without you (and in a Parenting magazine poll, 64 percent of those responding are secretly glad it does, enjoying the chance to rest without being bothered). Taking a day or two off work, or at least slowing down from your usual routine, allows your body to put all its energy into getting well. Besides, those of us around you would just as soon not hear that sniffling, snorting and sneezing. And we'd most certainly appreciate you not sending those germs our way, thank you very much.
3. Drink up
Your body needs extra liquids, to replace those lost during a cold and to help flush out the impurities. Have six to eight glasses a day of water, juice or other mostly clear liquids. That would include chicken soup. It's a fact: Hot chicken soup can help unclog your nasal passages by increasing the flow of nasal mucus. But watch what you eat - fatty foods, meat and milk products may not sit well.
4. Head for the showers
A steamy shower, a hot bath, a hot teakettle or a plain old pan of boiling water can help with congestion and moisten a dry throat. If you're taking the kitchen route to steam relief, take the pan off the stove. Drape a towel over your head in a tent and inhale the steam until it subsides.
5. Just the symptoms
Don't overmedicate. Treat only the symptoms you have. For sneezing, a runny nose and watery eyes, reach for an antihistamine. (Remember, many cause drowsiness, so no operating heavy machinery or driving while you're taking them.) To unstuff your nose, go for a decongestant. Nasal sprays also are effective, but don't use them more than three days or you may end up feeling all stuffed up again because of the rebound effect. For a cough, try cough drops, cough syrups or lozenges. Relieve a raw nose with a swipe of petroleum jelly around, under and slightly inside your nostrils.
6. A grain of salt
Add 1/4 teaspoon salt to a cup of water. Pour a little into your clean hand and snort it. Really. It will help you breathe easier by flushing out congestion-causing irritants. So say researchers who tested saline solution on adult sufferers of chronic congestion. For a sore throat, gargle with warm saltwater morning, noon and night, or even more often. Use about a teaspoon per glass of warm water.
7. Up and at `em
If your symptoms are all in your head - sniffles, coughing and so on - go ahead with your regular workout if you feel up to it. If your cold has moved into your chest, or if you have the aches and pains of the flu, take it easy. If you're not up to your usual workout, at least get up and go for a walk. Mild exercise improves circulation, which helps keep your immune system on the go.
8. Try it and C
Some people swear by vitamin C, saying that taking loads of it beginning the second you feel a cold coming on will lessen the duration and severity of a cold. In one study, cold sufferers had fewer symptoms when they took 500 milligrams of vitamin C four times a day. Orange, grapefruit and cranberry juices are rich sources of vitamin C.
9. Don't worry, be happy
A positive attitude can bolster your immune system's forces. In a study, healthy volunteers given a virus-infected nasal spray were least likely to get sick if they had a positive outlook on life.
10. Try the alternative
Zinc lozenges, garlic, echinacea, goldenseal and other herbals can cut short the symptoms of a cold. Check with your doctor and your pharmacist to make sure any herbal remedies won't interfere with some other medication you're taking.
HOW TO PREVENT A COLD
The viruses that cause colds and the flu can live for several hours in the air and on hands, clothing and hard surfaces. Here's how to avoid them.
1. Get a flu shot. Getting it now will protect you when flu season hits, usually in December or January. (However, a flu shot won't protect you against other viruses.)
2. Wash your hands. Often. It will keep you from picking up cold viruses from others - and keep you from spreading your cold.
3. Avoid touching other people or their belongings. Don't share your belongings.
4. Use disposable tissues when you sneeze, cough or blow your nose.
When to call the doctor
Antibiotics won't help if you have a cold or the flu. But do call the doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
-Shortness of breath or wheezing.
-Fevers that remain above 101 degrees for more than three days or any fever over 103 degrees.
-Excessive amounts of sputum, or if sputum is greenish or bloody.
-Extreme difficulty swallowing.
-A runny nose that persists longer than 10 days.
(c) 2003, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.