What Should You Have In Your Medicine Cabinet This Cold & Flu Season?

By Tara Weng, GalTime.com

Can you hear them already? The familiar sights and sounds of sniffles, body aches and cough-telltale signs of the cold and flu season. The good news is doctors say you can get a head start on fighting on those bugs by simply stocking your medicine cabinet with common over-the-counter remedies.

According to Dr. Rajlakshmi Krishnamurthy, Vice Chair of Boston Medical Center's Department of Medicine Outpatient Clinics, acetaminophen, decongestants with pseudoephedrine and cough suppressants and expectorants are all effective treatments to manage cold and flu symptoms. "These work to help with the body aches, sore throat, mild headaches and fevers associated with colds and flu," she says. Reading the fine print on the boxes can also be helpful. "I generally tell people to opt for medicines that offer a longer duration of relief," says associate physician Lisa Owens from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.

Both Dr. Krishnamurthy and Dr. Owens caution, though, that all over-the-counter remedies are not created equal. "In general, antihistamine/anti-allergy medications are not helpful to treat a cold and the flu. Additionally, nasal sprays, while helpful in the short term for stuffy noses, should not be used for more than three days. They cause rebound nasal congestion when used for longer durations," Dr. Krishnamurthy warns. Also people with pre-existing conditions including diabetes should check with their own physicians before taking any medications. "Certain medications, including some of the multi-symptom formulas can make people jittery especially the elderly and those taking prescription drugs," Dr. Owens says.

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In terms of getting a leg up on the flu, doctors generally recommend that everyone get the flu shot. This year the traditional influenza vaccine (protecting against the A and B strains) also includes the vaccine for the H1N1 virus, so you can prevent both illnesses with just one shot. Another preventive measure is good, old-fashioned soap and water-working just as well as anti-bacterial soaps. "The most important thing is to wash your hands frequently. The type of soap you use is less important," Dr. Krishnamurthy advises.

While a full medicine cabinet can help alleviate your symptoms it won't cure the common cold or the flu. Dr. Owens says a cold should work through the body typically in seven to ten days. The flu is harder to pinpoint. "The diagnosis of flu can be tricky- even for doctors, so we frequently do nasal cultures to confirm when in doubt," says Dr. Krishnamurthy. She offers the following tips for managing symptoms of the flu at home:

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"If you think you have the flu, it is most important to stay well hydrated- drink plenty of fluids, broth, soups, etc. Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage aches and fever. Use cough suppressants or expectorants and decongestants to manage cough and congestion. If you are not getting better after several days, or if your symptoms are getting worse, contact your doctor's office for further advice and evaluation."

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