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Upper respiratory infection in adults

What is it?

An upper respiratory infection (in-FEK-shun) is also called the common cold. It is an infection that can affect your nose, throat, ears, and sinuses. For healthy people, the common cold is usually not serious and does not need special treatment. Cold symptoms are usually worst for the first three to five days. Most people get better in seven to fourteen days. You may continue to cough for two to three weeks after getting a cold.

Causes:

The common cold is caused by a germ called a virus. There are many different cold viruses. The virus that caused your cold is contagious (kon-TAY-jus). This means it can be easily spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing, or touching hands. You are more likely to get a cold in the winter and if you are feeling stressed or tired. It may be easier for you to get a cold if you smoke cigarettes or have allergies, such as hay fever.

Signs and Symptoms:

You may have one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Chills and fever. The fever may last for one to three days.
  • Headache, body aches, or sore muscles.
  • Runny or stuffed up nose.
  • Decreased hunger or thirst.
  • Red, watery, and sore eyes.
  • Sneezing and coughing.
  • Sore throat. You may become hoarse (lose your voice) for a few days.
  • Tired or restless.

Wellness Recommendations:

Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet. Exercise at least 3 to 4 times a week. If you smoke, you should quit. Limit how much alcohol you drink. Stay away from others who have a cold. Always wash your hands after using the toilet.

Medical Care:

There is no cure for viral illnesses, such as the common cold.

  • Rest and drink liquids. Drink 6 to 8 glasses (soda pop can size) of hot or cold liquids a day. Or follow your care givers advice if you are on a fluid restriction.
  • Antibiotic medicine does not work to treat illnesses caused by a virus and can increase the risk of side effects and antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be taken for fever and body aches. You may need medicine for a cough or nasal congestion.
  • Keep warm and get lots of sleep. Use a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer to ease your breathing and unplug your nose.
  • Wash your hands after blowing your nose. This prevents spreading the cold to other people. Cover your mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing. Do not share food or drinks with anyone. Try to stay away from other people during the first 2 to 3 days of your illness. To help keep from getting colds, stay away from crowded places, especially in the winter.

Dietary Measures:

  • Eat simple foods during your infection, such as soup. Avoid alcohol and sugar.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.

Herbs:

  • Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) may be helpful for a cold and has been studied in people.
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have a cold.
  • Echinacea (Echinacea purpura) may be helpful for a cold and has been studied in people.
  • Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have a cold.
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have a cold.
  • Horseradish (Cochlearia armoracia) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have a cold.
  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have a cold.
  • Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have a cold.
  • Usnea (Usnea barbata) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have a cold.
  • Wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have a cold.

Supplements:

  • Vitamin C may be helpful for a cold and has been studied in people.

Complementary Therapies:

  • Learn to decrease the stress in your life.
  • Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic remedy, may be used to treat viral infections like the common cold or influenza. It may decrease symptoms and speed recovery.

Other ways of treating your symptoms:

Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

Talk to your caregiver if:

  • You would like medicine to treat the common cold.
  • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
  • You have a sore throat that gets worse or you see white or yellow spots in your throat.
  • Your cough or symptoms gets worse or lasts more than 10 days.
  • You have a rash anywhere on your skin.
  • You have large and tender lumps in your neck.
  • You have thick, greenish or yellowish discharge from your nose.
  • You cough-up thick yellow, green, gray, or bloody mucus.
  • You have vomiting for more than 24 hours and cannot keep fluids down.
  • You have a bad earache, headache, stiff neck, trouble breathing, or visual problems.
  • You have questions or concerns about your illness or medicine.
  • You have questions about what you have read in this document.

SEEK CARE IMMEDIATELY IF:

  • You start having bad headaches, stiff neck, or if bright light hurts your eyes.
  • You have trouble breathing.

Care Agreement:

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

References:

1. Cohen S, Doyle WJ & Skoner DP: Psychological stress, cytokine production, and severity of upper respiratory illness. Psychosom Med 1999; 61(2):175-180.

2. Ferley JP, Zmirou D, D'Adhemar D et al: Controlled evaluation of a homeopathic preparation in the treatment of influenza-like syndromes. Br J Clin Pharmacology 1989; 27:329-335.

3. Hemila H: Vitamin C supplementation and the common cold-was Linus Pauling right or wrong? Int J Vitam Nutr Res 1997a; 67(5):329-335.

4. Jemmott JB & Magloire K: Academic stress, social support, and secretory immunoglobulin A. J Pers Soc Psychol 1988; 55(5):803-810.

5. Lindenmuth GF & Lindenmuth EB: The efficacy of Echinacea compound herbal tea preparation on the severity and duration of upper respiratory and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. J Alt Compl Med 2000; 6(4):327-333.

6. Melchior J, Spasov AA, Ostrovskij OV et al: Double-blind, placebo- controlled pilot and phase III study of activity of standardized Andrographis paniculata Herba Nees extract fixed combination (Kan Jang) in the treatment of uncomplicated upper-respiratory tract infection. Phytomed 2000; 7(5):341-350.

7. Sanchez A, Reeser JL, Lau HS et al. Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. Am J Clin Nutr 1973; 26:1180-1184.

8. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M et al: Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an Elderberry extract (Sambucus Nigra L) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Alt Compl Med 1995; 1(4):361-369.


Last Updated: 4/4/2014

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