Posts Tagged ‘Colds’

Pharmacy and grocery store shelves are full of over-the-counter cold and cough medicines.  Which one do you choose, or are you better off not taking anything?  Do they help or make the cold last longer?  What about side effects?

Woman coughing.

Nothing cures or shortens the common cold.  Most colds usually go away in 7 to 10 days.  Since colds are caused by viruses and antibiotics don’t kill viruses your doctor will usually not give you anything unless you have had it for over 10 days.  Over-the-counter medicines don’t shorten or cure the cold either.  They just provide some relief from the symptoms. 

Why do we get more colds/coughs in the winter?  A study of the rhinovirus (causes the common cold) found it reproduces at lower temperatures.  Our nose usually gets colder than our core body temperature when we are out in the cold winter air.   This makes it easier for us to get a cold.  Washing our hands becomes important so we don’t spread the germs or get someone else’s germs.  

Should we take some medication?  Or what really works?

  • Antihistamines may help dry up a runny nose and help itchy, watery eyes. They can also cause drowsiness in some people and excited or restless in others.  The elderly is at risk of falling as many times antihistamines cause confusion and dizziness.  Antihistamines can also cause an irregular heartbeat. If you have glaucoma, an enlarged prostate, breathing problems, high blood pressure or heart disease check with your doctor before taking antihistamines.   
  • Pain relievers can help relieve fever, aches, and pains.  Be careful as many products have dosages in them. High dosages of acetaminophen can cause liver damage.
  • Cough suppressants can be slightly sedating.  The cough suppressant dextromethorphan has few other side effects.  An expectorant such as guaifenesin helps you clear mucous from your airways. However, it keeps me awake, and what I need when I am sick is sleep and rest. 

The best cough suppressant may be honey. Grandma knew best!  Add a teaspoon or two to a cup of tea or swallow it off the spoon.  Caution: Never give honey to infants younger than a year old. 

  • Nasal decongestants may be helpful in clearing up your nose. However, if you have high blood pressure or our taking blood pressure medication don’t take decongestants.  It is best to only take these for a short amount of time as they lose their effectiveness over time.  Nasal sprays should not be used for longer than 3-5 days as they can cause congestion. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend any over-the-counter cough and cold medications for children under the age of six, due to a lack of conclusive evidence that they work and increased reports of adverse events or even mortality.

Stop taking any over-the counter medications if you have these symptoms:

  • An allergic reaction like a rash, hives, peeling skin, wheezing, tightness in chest or throat, trouble breathing, swallowing, or talking, or swelling of face or throat.  Check with your doctor or get medical help if severe. 
  • Dark urine, feeling tired, light-colored stools, throwing up or yellow skin or eyes which can be signs of liver problems. 
  • Not able to pass urine or a change in urine.
  • Dizziness, feeling nervous, excitable, unable to sleep. 

What works?

  • The neti pot or nasal irrigation helps with breathing until the mucus builds up again.  No side effects with the neti pot. 
  • Getting extra rest.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of liquids, water, juice, soup, or broth.  Water is a good expectorant too. 
  • Honey can help with a cough.  See information above. 
  • Eat a healthy diet, especially vegetables and fruit, which can help you maintain health.
  • Vitamin C and Zinc may help but no affirmative studies have shown they do. 
  • Wash your hands often to prevent getting other’s germs or spreading yours.

Author:  Pat Brinkman, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension



Bykov, K. (2020). Cough and Cold Season is Arriving:  Choose Medicines Safely.  Harvard Health Blog at https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cough-and-cold-season-is-arriving-choose-medicines-safely-2020092220981

Graham, E. (2020). The Do’s and Don’ts of Cough and Cold Medicines. Safe Medication  at http://www.safemedication.com/safemed/PharmacistsJournal/The-Dos-and-Donts-of-Cough-and-Cold-Medicines

Wiley, F. (2015). Tough Out a Cold or Medicate It? Good Question.  Available at https://medshadow.org/tough-out-a-cold-or-medicate-it-good-question/

Read Full Post »


It’s flu and cold season.  Avoiding germs helps us avoid the flu and colds, so where are the germs lurking?  You might be surprised to find where you can encounter the most germs.


  • Home: Your kitchen is the germiest place. It has more bacteria than your bathrooms due to the germs on raw meat and produce.  Clean and disinfect or sanitize your kitchen sink often.  If you use a sponge, be sure to run it through the dishwasher after each use.  Also, make sure to disinfect your kitchen counter-tops.  Cold and flu germs can usually remain active on stainless steel, plastic and similar hard surfaces longer than on fabric or other types of soft surfaces. iphone-37856__340
  • Cellphone: Since we carry our cellphones everywhere, they are usually loaded with bacteria including viruses like the flu.  Frequently clean your smartphone with an alcohol-free antiseptic wipe. (Alcohol is not good for your screen.)
  • Purse: Do you hang your purse or set it on the floor?  Floors are really dirty places, especially restroom floors. Hang your purse on a hook or the back of a chair when possible, never put your purse on the kitchen counter, and regularly wipe your purse with a disinfectant wipe.
  • Workplace: You may think the worst place is the restroom, but the ground-floor elevator will probably beat it out for the germiest place.  Another place is the break room- especially the coffee pot handle and the water dispenser.  Wash your hand as soon as you can after touching either one of these items. menu
  • Restaurants: Guess what everyone touches?  The menu has the most bacteria.  Thus, after ordering your food, go to the restroom and wash your hands or take some hand sanitizer and use it before eating.
  • Grocery Stores: If you guessed the grocery cart, you are right.  Use a disinfecting wipe on the handles.  If you use reusable grocery bags, put them on the floor, not the kitchen counter, and wash them often in hot water and bleach.  Always wash your hands or sanitize them after shopping.

Washing your hands often with soap and water is the key to avoiding getting sick. hands-2238235__340 This is the best way to reduce the germs you are exposed to. Be sure to wash your hands for 20 seconds and build up a lather before rinsing.

And remember, eating nutritious food and being physically active will also help you stay healthy and fight infections.

Hope you avoid the flu and colds this season!


Author:  Pat Brinkman, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Fayette County

Reviewer: Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Franklin County



Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2018).  Preventive Steps.  Available at  https://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/prevention.htm

Leamy, E. (2017). The Most Germ-Infested Places You Encounter Every Day – and How to Avoid Getting Sick. The Washington Post.  Available at https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/12/17/the-most-germ-infested-places-you-encounter-every-day-and-how-to-avoid-getting-sick/

Steckelberg, J. M. (2015).  Flu Germs:  How Long Can They Live Outside the Body?  Mayo Clinic.  Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/expert-answers/infectious-disease/faq-20057907.

Read Full Post »

The weather outside is very cold and I begin to feel that scratchy throat. I am seeing my daughter’s nose running and hear her squashcomplaining about her ear hurting.  Amidst the holiday celebrations and more contact with friends and family, contagious illnesses are making their rounds.  Besides the number one action of washing our hands frequently, how can we best prepare our bodies to fight off these pesky germs?  The American Institute for Cancer Research has a helpful article, “Deck Your Meals with Fruits and Vegetables.”  What a timely topic!  So what are the recommended tips we should put into practice?

Make sure you are eating the rainbow.

  • Deep orange vegetables like pumpkins, winter squash, and sweet potatoes will provide you with Vitamin A and fiber.  See a great reduced fat recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole below.
  • Red Peppers will provide Vitamin E and Vitamin C while tomatoes will provide Beta-Carotene (Vitamin A).
  • Deep red, purple and blue berries and all the varieties of apples are also rich in antioxidants.
  • Green broccoli, mustard and turnip greens (and others), spinach and brussel sprouts all provide a variety of wonderful vitamins and minerals that keep our body healthier and able to battle infections.

Eat a variety of foods and do not overcook them.

  • Red meats and poultry, whole and fortified grains and breads provide the minerals zinc and selenium that help to build our immunity.
  • Grapes, beans, onions, etc.  are part of the many fresh fruits and vegetables and are nature’s vitamin pills.  In addition to their great taste they help to maintain our healthy lifestyles.
  • Overcooking and boiling our foods causes vitamins to escape and be poured down the drain.

Flavor foods naturally.

  • Ginger is known to fight inflammation and colds.  Other herbs and spices also help to keep our bodies running strong.

These food tips along with regular physical activity and drinking lots of water to keep us hydrated will not prevent every sneeze or sniffle this frosty season, but it should help us to prevent some illnesses and shorten the symptoms of the ones that get us down.

Try this tasty slimmed down version of sweet potato casserole for some great Vitamin A:

Sweet Potato Casserole

Yield: 10 servings


1 pound sweet potatoes (about 4 medium)

3 egg whites

1⁄2 cup sugar

12 ounces evaporated milk, nonfat

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg

1⁄2 teaspoon ginger


1. Rinse sweet potatoes in cold running water and pierce with a fork.

2. Microwave sweet potatoes on full power until tender, about 15 minutes. Turn them half way during baking.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove skin from sweet potatoes and mash with hand beaters or food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth.

4. Pour mixture in an 8 inch square baking pan. Bake until casserole is firm in the center, about 40 minutes.

5. Remove pan from oven. Allow to stand for 5 minutes then cut into 10 squares.

6. Serve hot. Refrigerate leftovers.

Notes:  You may want to experiment with using canned sweet potatoes.

Sources: Deck Your Meals with Fruits and Vegetables, (2013).  American Institute of Cancer Research.  Accessed on December 10, 2013, at http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=17467&news_iv_ctrl=2303

Super Foods for Optimal Health, (2013). WebMD.  Accessed on December 10, 2013, at http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/antioxidants-your-immune-system-super-foods-optimal-health

Sweet Potato Casserole, (2013). United States Department of Agriculture:  SNAP-Ed connection.  Accessed on December 10, 2013, at http://recipefinder.nal.usda.gov/recipes/sweet-potato-casserole

Author:  Cheryl Barber Spires, R.D., L.D., SNAP-Ed Program Specialist, Ohio State University Extension, West Region, spires.53@osu.edu

Reviewer:  Liz Smith, R.D., L.D., SNAP-Ed Program Specialist, Ohio State University Extension, NorthEast Region, smith.3993@osu.edu

Read Full Post »