If you develop a runny nose, with or without a sore throat, cough, a slightly raised temperature, tender glands in your neck, and aches and pains, you are likely to have one of the thousands of "common cold" viruses. There is no cure for most viruses. A doctor cannot do more for you than you can do for yourself, although you may feel awful and wish that he could.
The best thing to do is to stay at home, keep drinking, even if you don't feel like eating, and take regular acetaminophen (paracetamol), aspirin (only over the age of 16), or ibuprofen, to help the aches and pains and also to help reduce any fever. Some proprietary preparations contain one of these plus a decongestant. These may be just the right thing, and often make up into a drink which also helps to stop you becoming dehydrated.
It is important, however, to remember that there is a maximum safe dose of the various drugs, and you should not take medications in combination unless you are sure that you are not exceeding the maximum dose of any of the constituents. For example if using the top recommended dose of a hot lemon cold treatment containing acetaminophen, you should not take acetaminophen in addition. If in doubt, consult your pharmacist.
Most colds and upper respiratory virus infections only last for a few days. An antibiotic will not help if the cause is a virus, which it most often is, and may indeed make you feel worse. Antibiotics have a small risk of side effects, sometimes major ones. On most occasions little can be gained from going in to your doctor's office or calling the doctor out to visit you, and nature will effect a cure, while you cope with the symptoms with the remedies mentioned above or some of the more old-fashioned ones:
- Honey and lemon hot drink (made up with fresh lemon juice, boiled water and honey to taste).
- Menthol/mentholated steam inhalation. (If using menthol crystals, only use one crystal in hot, steaming water.) This may help clear the nasal passages, eustachian tubes and sinuses.
- Some people believe that vitamin C (ascorbic acid) helps to prevent and fight off colds. The evidence is not good to support the effectiveness of extra vitamin C for this. Many people, however, swear by it.
- Throat lozenges, gargles and throat sprays may help soothe the sore throat.