Treating Cold or Flu Symptoms

How do I cure a Cold or Flu?

The common cold has no cure but you can relieve symptoms. Symptoms may last from 7-14 days, and will subside by themselves.

Sore Throat

For a mild to moderate sore throat lasting one to two days, with no fever present:

  • Use ice chips, throat spray, or lozenges (do not give lozenges to young children).
  • Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen (read about what is safe to give your child). 
  • Gargle warm salt water every two to three hours as needed. Put half a teaspoon of salt into eight ounces of water.

Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat

Sore throat (Nonbacterial/Viral infection)

A sore throat oftentimes goes away after the first day or two. Cold symptoms may follow.

Strep Throat (Bacterial infection)

The sore throat is more severe and persists. Symptoms may include:

  • Sudden sore throat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Painful swallowing
  • Red tonsils with white spots
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Rash

Minor Relief

  • Drink warm liquids.
  • Suck on hard candies or lozenges.

Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medications

There are three basic types of OTC medicines.


Help thin mucus, making it easier to cough up.

The ingredient guaifenesin is the only expectorant in the U.S., so look for it on the label.


Reduce the number of times you cough. These work by sedative effects to suppress the cough and may cause drowsiness.

The active ingredient is usually dextromethorphan (DM). Other suppressants include codeine, camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol.


May have medicines to ease other symptoms, including decongestants for stuffy nose, antihistamines for allergies or a runny nose, or painkillers.

These have guaifenesin and dextromethorphan. 


Congestion causes sinus, nasal stuffiness and occasionally a pressure sensation in the ears.

Oral Decongestants

  • Sudafed
  • Sudafed Sinus
  • Tylenol Sinus
  • Triaminic- Expectorant

Use topical decongestants or nasal sprays with caution since they can make symptoms worse after two or three days. Only use nasal sprays for one or two days.


Antihistamines relieve allergies; there is no proof they reduce symptoms of the common cold. While allergies share some symptoms with the common cold, they are not the same.

Antihistamines cause drowsiness as a side effect, and should be used with caution. Use antihistamines at bedtime, or while bedridden.

Runny Nose

Use a decongestant or saline nasal spray (read about what is safe to give your child).

What should I do?

Best treatment: wait and watch.

Some people find that using a cool mist vaporizer or saltwater (saline) nose drops helps them feel better.

Do I need antibiotics?

No. Antibiotics treat sinusitis, not symptoms of the common cold. 

Why NOT use antibiotics?

Each time you take antibiotics, you are more likely to carry resistant germs in your nose and throat. Since a runny nose almost always gets better on its own, it is better to wait.

Sinus Pressure

To relieve sinus pressure 

  • Put a warm compress over your mouth and forehead.
  • Use a decongestant or saline nasal spray.
  • Breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower.
  • Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen (read about what is safe to give your child).