Treating Cold and Flu Symptoms at Home:

As we get into colder weather it is easier to pick up and share viruses.  Usually viral infections just need time and supportive care while the body takes care of the problem.  Please note – this is general advice about common colds and coughs – we recommend calling us directly with questions about COVID-19.  Here are some general tips for treating the symptoms that arise each winter.


For Congestion:

Fluticasone Nasal Spray works well for congestion whether from allergies or viral infections.  It takes about three days of using it regularly to get the full affect. 

Afrin Nasal Spray works quickly.  The problem with Afrin is that if it is used for more than three days it can cause the congestion to bounce back worse than it was before.  This doesn’t happen if it is used for three days or less. 

Neti Pot or sinus washes are very helpful.  This combines warm water with a special type of salt that comes with the device and pour it through the nostrils.  This washes out the thick mucous that accumulates in the nasal passages and it calms down the nasal tissue so the person using it is able to breathe more easily.  I highly recommend trying it for at least three times (it takes a little practice to get used to it).  There are great videos on youtube on how to use a neti pot, and if you use a neti pot before using nasal sprays, the sprays work better (because they get right to the tissue after the mucous is washed away).  For people who just can’t get used to a neti pot, you can buy a saline spray that will help break up mucous.

Decongestants work by constricting the blood vessels to the nose so the nose can’t produce as much mucous.  People with high blood pressure should be careful with these medications.  Pseudoephedrine is much more effective than Phenylephrine, but you need to ask the pharmacist for it.


For Fever, Aches, and Pains:

Tylenol is generally our first choice as it will help with fever and reduce the pain people sometimes get with infections.  It is generally the safest over the counter medication for pain. 

Ibuprofen and naproxen also work well but can aggravate the stomach and the kidneys if high amounts are used for prolonged periods.  I prefer naproxen over ibuprofen slightly, because it works best with twice daily dosing whereas ibuprofen works best with three times daily dosing.  Choose whichever one you feel works best for you.


For Cough:

Honey works.  We use it for children above the age of two and for adults.  Whether you mix it with warm apple cider or just take a spoonful of honey by itself, it reduces the irritation in the throat that causes coughing.

Mucinex loosens up the phlegm in the chest so that when someone coughs, it is easier to clear it out.  Mucinex-D includes a decongestant, and Mucinex-DM includes Delsym.

Delsym is a medication designed to stop your body from coughing, even when it needs to.  This is helpful when you’re trying to sleep, but be cautious as we want the lungs to be able to clear themselves out.  Most over-the-counter cough syrups are some combination of an anti-histamine, Tylenol, a decongestant, and/or a cough suppressant. 

Cough Drops, hard candy, and Gum also help reduce the irritation felt in the throat and reduces the urge to cough.

A humidifier or vaporizer by the bedside also helps to break up the mucous and soothe the throat, relieving the cough and opening your passages so you can breathe more easily.

Steam Therapy – standing in a hot shower, taking a hot bath, or putting your head into the steam from a boiling pot of water will also help to break up the mucous in your passages and help you breathe more easily.  The warmth also helps your body fight off whatever it needs to fight.


Supporting the Immune System

Zinc – there are good studies showing that zinc helps the body fight viruses.  I attended a medical conference four years ago where they discussed that this is likely the best treatment available for getting over the common cold.  It comes in 50 mg tablets over the counter and is normally next to the multivitamins.  Sometimes you will need to ask the pharmacist for it as there has been greatly increased demand.  Adults should take 2 tablets up to 3 times daily if sick.  I take 2 tablets once daily during the sick season to reduce the chance of picking up a viral infection.

Vitamins C and D – there are not good studies showing these make a difference, but there is lots of anecdotal evidence.  Our vitamin D levels fall in the winter months as we get less sun exposure.  Supplementing with these, 1000 mg of Vitamin C and 2000 IU of Vitamin D3, daily seem to be beneficial.

For more information on treating symptoms at home, please visit our website at  We have same-day and telemedicine appointments available. Call us at 208-745-3500 for an appointment!



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