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amEXPERT: Dr. Jennifer Collins talks tackling a cold

Dr. Jennifer Collins

Dr. Jennifer Collins Credit: Dr. Jennifer Collins

Dr. Jennifer Collins is an assistant professor and physician specializing in allergy, asthma and immunology in the Department of Otolaryngology at the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary.

She answered some questions for amNewYork:

I feel a cold coming on. My eyes are itchy and my throat scratchy. What's the first thing I should do? There are a few things you can do to help reduce the duration of your symptoms. A 2011 Cochrane review has looked at the impact of zinc gluconate on cold duration. Studies show it can reduce the duration of a cold by up to 42% when taken within 24 hours of symptoms. I recommend keeping Cold-EEZE Cold Remedy lozenges and Day Time QuickMelts. In addition, get extra sleep (at least seven hours) and drink plenty of fluids. Following these steps when you have a cold coming can help you feel better faster.

My friend swears by her hot air humidifier. How do I pick one that's right for me? Buying a humidifier can be tricky; models can range in price from $35 to $350, depending on features and size. Knowing which one is right for your family can be a difficult decision, but there are a few things to look for. 1) A humidistat: Goal humidity (water content in the air) should be between 30-50% for you to be comfortable, but in the winter it can drop to as low as 10%. Look for a system that has a humidistat - that will measure and check the water content in the air and keep it between 30-50%. If the humidity in your home is too high or causes condensation of water on your windows, you can promote mold and dust mite growth. 2) Bacteria: Anti-microbial filters are a good option to help reduce the growth of bacteria. 3) Size: The size of the humidifier will depend on the size of the space you need to humidify. It may make sense to have several smaller units in each room that you turn on at night rather than one large one. 4) Filters: Make sure that there is a hard water filter. Decide whether you want an evaporative humidifier or one that uses a filter that needs to be changed. This may add on unexpected costs. 5) Noise: Some models can be noisy and disturb your sleep. Above all else, don't forget to clean it on a regular basis based on the manufacture guidelines.

Should I always try at home and over-the-counter remedies first? Most colds are caused by viruses and unfortunately, there's no medicine that can cure a viral infection. Over-the-counter remedies are good sources for symptom reduction of fever, nasal congestion, cough and difficulty sleeping.

How do you know when it's time to see a doctor for a cold? Knowing when to see your doctor can be a difficult call and you should always use your best judgment. See your doctor if your symptoms last more than five days, you have a fever over 101, you develop an asthma attack, you've missed more than one day of work, you can't eat or drink or for any other worrisome symptom.

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