By Sally Robinson

The illness we call the common cold is caused by a virus that infects the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, and upper airway). This creates the inflammation of the mucous membranes that leads to the miserable stuffy head, runny nose, sneezing and sometimes a sore throat or cough. There are no drugs available that kill that virus. A cold cannot be “cured” by anything except time. The safest and cheapest approach is to let it run its course while you get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Here’s what to do if you have a cold.

• An adult should drink 8 to 10 glasses of nonalcoholic liquids a day. The amount of liquids can be adjusted for children. Warm liquids are best so lots of tea and soup will help clear the mucus from the airway. Coughing is helpful and protects the airway.

• Get plenty of rest and you’ll recover faster.

• Remember a runny nose is draining itself of mucus so it is better not to take anything to stop it.

• For stuffy noses try a simple saline nasal solution.

• If you must use a medicated nose drop use the following safe ingredients and never use more than three days.

• Oxymetazoline hydrochloride

• Xylometazoline hydrochloride

• Phenylephrine hydrochloride

Here’s what not to do if you have a cold

• Don’t take a medicine with antihistamine. They are for the histamine released with allergies.

• Don’t take oral decongestants such as pseudoephedrine as they are no more effective than nasal saline and have serious side effects.

• Don’t take the expectorant guaifenesin. There are serious doubts about being effective so why take it?

• Don’t take the cough suppressant dextromethorphan. It is not effective in either children or adults and has side effects.

• Don’t take combination medicines.

• Don’t give aspirin to children.

Call your doctor if the fever is high above 103 degrees or last longer than four days.

Call your doctor if there are chills, chest pain, rapid breathing, coughing up thick green phlegm, or an extremely severe and persistent sore throat.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.