EDITOR'S NOTE: Angela Neglia is a licensed pharmacist in Georgia. The following are general answers to common questions and are not intended to replace the medical advice of a physician. Questions can be e-mailed to askRPh@hotmail.com or call toll free (877) 373-7850 and leave a message.
Q: Which type of humidifier is best, warm or cool mist for a cold?
A: This is a personal choice. Many health care providers believe that a humidifier provides a breeding ground for mold, and I have to agree. If you have sinus congestion because of allergies, a humidifier may not be a great choice for you because mold is a common allergen. In the winter, however, when sinus congestion is more often due to a cold or the flu, a humidifier can alleviate symptoms. Humidity helps loosen secretions in the respiratory tract, and this can be beneficial. A warm mist humidifier works by vaporizing water, therefore the water is clean because it is distilled. It is also more comfortable in the winter as it creates a tropical environment in a room. But this type causes burns, so be careful, especially with young children.
Q: I never know which product to use when I have cold symptoms. Is there a good rule to follow?
A: First, figure out if the symptoms are allergy or cold related. If the sinus congestion is related to allergies, you may need an over the counter antihistamine such as Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton or Claritin. If there is sinus drainage, you also might want a decongestant such as Claritin-D or something with pseudoephedrine (the decongestant) in it. Although these products are marketed for allergy symptoms, they are made of the same ingredients in cold medications. If you have aches and pains, choose a product that also has a pain reliever. For a dry cough, get a cough suppressant (dextromethorphan). If your cough is productive, you might want to avoid this ingredient because coughing is the body's way of expelling bacteria in the mucus, and the goal is to get it out of your lungs. The best ingredient for a productive cough is an expectorant (guaifenesin) which will aid in loosening secretions. You need to keep in mind that antihistamines, with the exception of Claritin, and dextromethorphan cause drowsiness. Pseudoephedrine causes excitability, increases blood pressure, and worsens glaucoma. The only rule of thumb for a cold is to read the ingredients list with the role of each one in mind.
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