Cold, Flu, Allergy Treatments

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideNatural Cold & Flu Relief in Pictures: Neti Pots, Zinc, and Other Remedies

Natural Cold & Flu Relief in Pictures: Neti Pots, Zinc, and Other Remedies

Sore throat and other symptoms

Viruses are the most common cause of sore throat. A sore throat caused by a cold virus usually resolves in one to two weeks without treatment. On the other hand, a sore throat caused by the Streptococcus bacterium (strep throat) should be treated with antibiotics to prevent damage to the heart valves and other complications of strep infection. Generally, Streptococcus bacteria cause a more severe sore throat and a higher fever than viral sore throats, but it is not always possible to distinguish the two without laboratory testing. Sneezing, runny nose, and cough more frequently accompany sore throats due to a cold virus, rather than Streptococcus infections. Sometimes, a throat culture or other lab test is necessary to establish the cause of the sore throat.

Medications that are available OTC for the temporary relief of sore throat due to the common cold usually contain anesthetics such as benzocaine and dyclonine or menthol and come in the form of lozenges, gargles, and sprays. Children often prefer popsicles, ice cream, yogurt, pudding, smoothies, or other cool/soft foods in lieu of traditional medications. Aside from their analgesic effects, these foods also provide some nutritional benefit.

Examples of sore throat medications include Cepacol Sore Throat Maximum Strength and Sucrets sore throat lozenges.

What about vitamin C and zinc?

Vitamin C is an antioxidant. In the 1970s, Linus Pauling proposed that vitamin C could reduce the incidence and severity of common cold. To date, there is no conclusive evidence that megadoses of vitamin C prevent colds or decrease the severity and/or duration of cold symptoms. Medical research has suggested a small decrease in duration of cold symptoms in adults who took vitamin C supplements regularly, but that vitamin C taken after the onset of symptoms had no effect on the duration of cold symptoms.

Zinc has been proposed as an antiviral medication. Some studies suggest that the frequent administration of zinc lozenges, tablets, or syrup may reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms if started within hours of the onset of cold symptoms. However, certain side effects and toxicities, including loss of sense of smell, have been associated with some zinc preparations used to treat colds. In fact, the U.S. FDA has issued a public health advisory warning that three zinc-containing products for topical (intranasal) use should not be used due to the risk of developing this side effect.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/28/2017

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