Cold and Flu

Does a runny nose mean I’m getting a cold?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Why does my nose run in cold weather? Does it mean I'm getting a cold?

DEAR READER: Cold air is not only cold, but also dry. The lungs are built to deal with air that is warm and moist. So, a main function of your nose is to make the air you breathe in warm and moist. Bones in the nose (called turbinates) are covered with blood-filled membranes. The blood running through the turbinates is at body temperature: around 98.7 degrees F. The heat in the blood warms the cold air you breathe in.

Why am I still coughing three weeks after a chest cold?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I had a chest cold. I feel better, but I'm still coughing a lot. This has been going on for more than three weeks. Why am I still coughing?

DEAR READER: Most likely, you had bronchitis, an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. Bronchitis is usually caused by an infection -- viral or bacterial. The bronchial tubes are air passages connecting the lungs to the windpipe. Bronchitis usually starts with an upper respiratory illness that spreads from the nose and throat down into the airways.

Can I give my 5-year-old over-the-counter cold medicine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 5-year-old daughter has a bad cold, but her pediatrician doesn't want me to give her over-the-counter cold medication. What can I do to help her feel better?

DEAR READER: When your child is coughing and congested, it's tempting to reach for cold medicine. But as your doctor advised (based on guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics), you shouldn't give over-the-counter cold medicines to children younger than 6 years.

Are over-the-counter cold medications safe?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my 60s. Whenever I have a cold, I reach for whichever medication treats the most symptoms. My wife says that's not safe, even if the medication is available over the counter. Is she right?

DEAR READER: Your wife is correct. Clearly, you should listen to her more often. Painkillers, decongestants, antihistamines and combination remedies -- even those available over the counter -- can sometimes cause health problems. They can interact with other drugs and can interfere with existing conditions. When choosing a cold medication, read the list of active ingredients.

Is there any way to prevent a cold?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is there any way to prevent a cold?

DEAR READER: The typical cold is a relatively mild misery that goes away without special treatment after about a week. Still, it's a misery most of us would rather avoid. Colds are caused by viruses — more than 200 different types. Because the infection is not bacterial, antibiotics don't help. Over-the-counter cold medicines are available, but not always effective.

Can sinusitis be prevented?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Every winter I come down with sinusitis. Is there anything I can do to prevent it?

DEAR READER: A lot of people suffer from periodic sinus infections (sinusitis). I'm one of them. The symptoms are aggravating: headache, pain or pressure in the face and head, where the sinuses are, and thick mucus clogging the nose. The good news is there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of sinusitis.