At this time of year, many students experience cold and flu-like symptoms that are caused by a virus. Your symptoms are caused by inflammation—a sign that your immune system is working to clear the infection. Getting better can take one to four weeks. Here are some suggested treatments and important information that may help you feel better.
Common Viral Illnesses and Preventing Their Spread
With any of these infections, hand hygiene, hydration, and rest are key to getting well and preventing spread to others.
- The “common cold” and “the flu” (influenza) are very contagious viruses and spread when the virus contacts the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose, or mouth. Cover your cough, shield your sneeze, and wash your hands.
- The “stomach bug” (gastroenteritis) an illness that can be spread by contact with vomit or feces. Stay home while actively sick. It is smart to clean surfaces in the restroom and eating areas often.
- Mononucleosis is a viral illness, usually causing symptoms for one to six weeks. You will get a handout on care for this illness if you are diagnosed at UHS.
Do your part to keep our campus healthy: wear a mask, cover your coughs and sneezes, don’t share food and drink, and wash your hands often.
- Antibiotics do not work for viral infections; they can do more harm than good.
- Rest. You are sick. Allow yourself plenty of time to sleep, 8–10 hours as needed.
- Hydrate. Drink plenty of liquids, especially if you have a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. Small sips every few minutes. Your body needs sugar and salt to absorb water most effectively (salty crackers, for example). If you can’t eat solid foods, try soups, broths, popsicles, ginger ale, or electrolyte drinks.
- Choose healthy foods. Listen to your body and eat what looks appealing but avoid junk food.
- Avoid smoking. Smoking and vaping can irritate your respiratory tract.
- Gargle. If you have a sore throat, gargling can soothe your symptoms. Put ½ teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water, then use this to gargle for 15–30 seconds before spitting it out.
- Use honey. Studies have shown honey to be as effective as over-the-counter cough medication! Simply take two teaspoons (10 mL) of honey a few times a day and at bedtime to soothe a sore throat, reduce mucous secretions, reduce coughing, and provide antimicrobial and antioxidant effects.
- Consider allowing a mild fever to resolve naturally without medications. Mild fevers (below 101 degrees) are generally not dangerous, even if they are uncomfortable. Use a thermometer to monitor your temperature.
Self-Care at Home
The following list explains products that you can buy without a prescription at the pharmacy to treat your symptoms:
- Ibuprofen will help reduce pain and fevers. Dose: 400–800 mg every eight hours with food. Do not take more than 2,400 mg in 24 hours. Possible side effects may include nausea and stomach pain; stop taking if side effects occur.
- Acetaminophen will help reduce pain and fevers. Dose: 500–1,000 mg every six hours. Do not take more than 3,000 mg in 24 hours (unless your provider approves 4,000 mg in 24 hours; higher doses can inflame the liver).
- Cough drops and throat lozenges can soothe a sore throat and may reduce your cough. They are generally safe to use. Throat sprays containing phenol or lozenges containing benzocaine/menthol numb the throat temporarily, making it easier to eat, drink, and get to sleep more comfortably.
- Saline nasal sprays can help soothe sinus pressure and nasal congestion. They are effective and safe.
- Decongestants shrink swollen blood vessels and tissues, so your nose/sinus congestion feels temporarily improved. These come in nasal sprays (oxymetazoline—never use longer than 3 days) and in pills (phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine).
- Expectorants (ex: guaifenesin) work by thinning out mucous secretions so they are easier to cough or blow out. Guaifenesin dose is 2,400 mg per 24 hours. They only work if you are well hydrated.
- Cough suppressants/antitussives Consider allowing your body to cough; coughing is your body’s way of clearing out the infection. These medications (ex: dextromethorphan, DM) work by reducing the sensitivity of the stretch receptors in your lungs, thereby blocking your cough reflex. Cough suppressants have been shown to be minimally effective for most people.
- Cough/cold/flu combination products combine various medicines, including those listed above plus antihistamines. Remember, these products might help reduce your symptoms (or just make you feel sleepy) but will not cure you any faster. Consider saving your money and relying on rest, hydration, healthy nutrition, honey, and your immune system to heal you. If you want to use combination products, read the instructions carefully and make sure you are not inadvertently taking too much of any one medication.
- Anti-nausea and diarrhea products can help with acute symptoms of gastroenteritis. However, you should consider letting the diarrhea symptoms run their course for two to three days prior to taking medications that are solely anti-diarrheal. If you note bloody stool, more than eight bowel movements a day, or non-stop vomiting, you should seek medical care. Some anti-diarrheal medications are Pepto-Bismol, loperamide, Kaopectate. Anti-nausea options are ginger products such as raw ginger, and tea, or ginger-ale. The key for staying hydrated when you have nausea and vomiting is taking many small sips of clear liquids.
Remember: You are most contagious in the early days of your infection. If you feel sick, stay home!
Pregnant people should ask care provider before using over-the-counter drugs.
The following list explains products available with a prescription that can be helpful to treat your symptoms:
- Viscous Lidocaine 2%: this medication combined with two over the counter liquid medications can help soothe a sore throat or painful mouth sores. See instructions on making Magic Mouthwash below.
- Benzonatate: a cough suppressant pill.
- Oseltamivir (Tamiflu): antiviral for influenza A and B
- Ondansetron (Zofran): an anti-nausea medication
Magic Mouthwash Recipe
In a container that you can seal…
If you have questions, call the UHS pharmacy at 541-346-4454.
When to Seek Medical Care
The following symptoms may be a sign of a more serious or worsening infection and require further evaluation:
- Fever greater than 100 F/38.5 C for more than 48 hours
- Severe headache or stiff neck
- Difficulty breathing or chest pain, shortness of breath
- Widespread rash on your body
- Severe or persistent sore throat and difficulty swallowing
- Thick dark yellow or green nasal discharge with pain around the eyes or worsening ear pain
- Painful swollen lymph nodes in neck
- Extreme fatigue or weakness
- Persistent cough that causes vomiting or shortness of breath
Patients with history of asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic condition should consider getting a medical evaluation.