Friday, August 24, 2007

Coughs, Colds and Ear Pain (The Common Cold)

We are now entering a season with the beginning of changing weather we are starting to see more and more colds even though it's still Summer. If you are having a common cold below is some advice that can help with the common symptoms. This is a virus that DOES NOT respond to antibiotics. In the past many doctors prescribed antibiotics for any cold "just in case." This has lead to many people getting antibiotic resistant infections even if they only have taken an antibiotic once a year or less. The common cold will start to show improvement in a couple of days with or without treatment. The only thing that we do is help with the symptoms. For everybody I recommend:
1) Rest.
2) Drink plenty of fluids.
3) Wash your hands.

Common colds are easily spread from one person to another through coughing but also through the sick person touching something that a healthy person then touches. To help protect your family and friends I recommend keeping a bottle of alcohol based hand cleaner around so that you can sanitize your hands after touching your face or blowing your nose even when a sick in not around to wash.

Sore Throats
If you have a sore throat as part of your cold symptoms there are a variety of over the counter products that can help. I personally recommend the cough drops that contain benzocaine. This is a topical anesthetic that is a sister to Novocaine used by the dentist. These drops will numb your throat to help with pain relief but be warned they will also numb your mouth. But if they help the pain most folks don't mind numbing the mouth.

Stuffed Up Noses
When noses run easily it is easy to get the junk out given that you can't really stop it from coming out. Sometimes in this very dry environment that we live in our nasal mucus gets dehydrated and we need something to loosen it up so that we can blow our nose and get it out. My two favorite products are nasal saline sprays and the Sinus Rinse Bottle. The first is a little squirt bottle that sprays a mist into your nose. The second is a bottle that you mix water in a salt packet and squirt a larger amount of water up your nose. I personally use the second for my allergy symptoms. Use these and then in a few minutes you can blow some of the mucus out and repeat if needed.

Pain In Your Ears
Often time if you have a cold or allergies pain in your ears is not an ear infection and you do not need antibiotics. Our middle ears produce a small amount of fluid all the time and we have a tube "the Eustation tube" that connects our middle ear to the back of our throat. This tube drains the fluid. If the tube gets stopped up, possibly by mucus blocking it, we get pain in our ears. If we can loosen up that mucus blocking the tube we can get rid of the pain and will not have any infection to treat. To do that you can:
1) Chew gum - This moves the muscles around the tube and helps to jar the mucus loose.
2) Drink everything through a straw - The sucking helps suck the mucus loose.
3) Eustation tube massage - You place a finger under your ear and behind your jaw in that ridge between your jaw and your neck. Then using medium force against your skin move your finger along that ridge to the center of your throat. Do this on both sides 5-6 times every few hours to help massage the mucus loose.

Muscle Aches
The best thing to help these is to take Tylenol or ibuprofen. The store brand is just as effective but cheaper. Take them according to the directions on the bottle.

We medically define a fever as any temperature of 100.3 deg F or higher as a fever. Take Tylenol or ibuprofen as above. We used to tell people to alternate them every few hours of one by itself was not working. Recent research shows this to not be effective and only leads to more side effects. Just use one and use it consistently. If this is not working let us know and we can give you advice on what to do next.

Sinus Pain/Infection
Pain in the front of the face, usually beside the nose or in the for head, is considered to be sinus pain. Many people come to see me with two days of sinus pain and feel it's a sinus infection. Sinus infections start with plugging up the nose and blocking the drainage from your sinuses. It takes at least 7-10 days to get a real sinus infection. If it's been less than that you probably just have plugged up sinuses. If you have a real infection you will need to see us for a prescription for antibiotics which we can only prescribe after seeing you. If you have sinus pain from pressure we can often relieve some or all of it by getting the mucus out of the most. Follow the directions for a stuffed up nose above. Then when the sinuses drain the pressure will be relieved and you should feel better.

Unfortunately nothing works very well for coughs. Robitussin (dextromethorphan) is the only over the counter cough suppressant but it has not been shown to be effective. It was placed on the market before the FDA was created so it was grandfathered in and has never been FDA approved. It is just as effective as an 8oz glass of water. We do have various things we sometimes recommend including codeine based cough syrups and Tessalon Pearls but they all have minimal effectiveness. Also, the cough can persist for up to a month or even a little more after the rest of your cold symptoms have resolved. So if you had a cold and the cough is sticking around don't worry it will just take time.

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