HEALTH MATTERS: Tricks to ward off sickness: Hand-washing, good hygieneQ. As we get into the cold season, what should I take to ward off a cold, or at least reduce the severity of a cold if I get one?
By: Dr. Joshua Wynne,
Q. As we get into the cold season, what should I take to ward off a cold, or at least reduce the severity of a cold if I get one?
A. A wide spectrum of over-the-counter preparations have been advocated to prevent or treat the common cold. Many of us used to take vitamin C during the cold season in an effort to prevent colds and reduce their severity since Linus Pauling, a winner of the Nobel Prize, advocated its use about four decades ago.
Unfortunately, no specific therapy has been conclusively demonstrated to prevent or treat the common cold. More than a dozen preparations have been studied in rigorous clinical trials, including vitamin C, garlic, Chinese medicinal herbs and nasal irrigation. Most recently, a study looked at vitamin D, and found that it too was ineffective.
It turns out that the only established role for vitamin D is for bone health and to prevent fractures. And for most of us in North Dakota, we get enough vitamin D in our diet, so taking vitamin D pills is unnecessary.
Antibiotics also have no role in treating the common cold, since they add unnecessary cost, are ineffective and can cause serious side effects. Further, they increase the chance that antibiotic-resistant bacteria will develop. So, unfortunately, there really isn’t an effective agent to prevent or treat the common cold. Hand-washing and good personal hygiene will help prevent transmission. And remember to get your flu shot, which will help prevent the flu (even though a flu shot will do nothing to prevent the common cold, which is caused by a different virus entirely).
Q. I have a bad family history of coronary heart disease, as my father and older brother both had heart attacks at a young age. Although I have no symptoms at present, should I have a stress test just to be sure?
A. This is a common question that frequently is asked of primary care physicians and cardiologists like me, and it’s a tough one to answer. So let’s start with an easier question: Should a person with no symptoms and at a low risk of having coronary disease have a routine stress test?
The answer typically is no, since we ordinarily wouldn’t do anything different even if the test turned out abnormal, and there would be a high likelihood that an abnormal test was falsely positive. The question you ask, though, is harder, because you are not at low risk of heart disease because of your family history.
In situations like yours, one has to individualize recommendations, and especially consider the patient’s preferences and concerns. It would not be wrong to get a stress test in your situation, although I don’t think that it’s essential, as long as you don’t have any other risk factors for coronary disease like high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol or diabetes. There is no consensus among health care providers regarding the value of stress testing in patients like you at intermediate or high risk of coronary disease, and thus the decision is one you’ll have to make in consultation with your health care provider.
Wynne is vice president for health affairs at UND, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and a professor of medicine. He is a cardiologist by training.
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