Mind and Body

In pain? Sick? How to feel better fast

Quick-healing techniques for common maladies.

Take acetaminophen (which is found in Tylenol) as directed to lower your fever temporarily until the illness makes its way through your system.

Drink plenty of liquids. A fever can cause perspiration, and if you don’t replenish those fluids, you could become dehydrated.

Try to work through it. Going to the gym or out for drinks with friends can further stress your body and hamper recovery.

Cool your skin with ice packs when you overheat; ice can actually burn your skin. Use a cold washcloth instead.

Call your doctor if…
You have a fever that’s over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, you have a headache and neck pain, or your fever doesn’t break after two solid days. Most fevers are viral and go away in a day or two. But in some cases a fever could be the sign of something more serious, like a kidney infection, pneumonia, or meningitis.

Sinus Pain
Use a saline spray or rinse to clear out mucus and bacteria and help reduce pressure.

Take a decongestant that contains pseudoephedrine (such as Sudafed), which will quickly shrink the inflamed blood vessels that are causing the pain.

Ease head discomfort by taking ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory. Note: It’s OK to take a decongestant and ibuprofen (found in Advil)―the two active ingredients are often sold in one pill. However, experts suggest taking them separately to better control the dosages.

Rely on antibiotics or steroid nasal sprays. A study revealed that people who took a placebo recovered just as quickly as those who used a steroid spray.

Call your doctor if…
Your symptoms don’t subside in a week, the pain is severe, or you have a fever higher than 100 degrees. You may have a bacterial sinus infection that calls for antibiotics.

Cuts and Scrapes
Clean with warm, soapy water to remove germs and debris.

Keep the cut moist; this is key to promoting the rapid growth of new skin cells. Apply a thin layer of an antibiotic ointment. If the cut is in a place where the ointment can rub off or get dirty, cover it with a bandage.

Use peroxide or alcohol; these dry skin and stall healing.

Pick at a cut or a scab. This increases irritation, which delays healing, and it can introduce bacteria into the wound. Also, picking can leave scars.

Call your doctor if…
The cut is deep (you can’t bring the edges together by applying gentle pressure, for example) or the skin around the wound is jagged (in which case you may need stitches).

There is a discharge or red streaks around the wound or the skin around the cut feels hot. These are signs of infection, and you’ll need antibiotics.


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Minor Burn
Immediately apply a cold compress or run very cold water over the area to decrease the temperature of your skin.

Apply an ointment with petrolatum (such as Aquaphor Healing Ointment) to keep the area moist, and cover it with a bandage.

Wash the area with cool water twice a day, pat dry, and reapply the ointment.

Rub butter on a burn, which can lead to infection.

Use peroxide, alcohol, or witch hazel, all of which dry skin and slow the formation of new skin cells.

Call your doctor if…
The pain worsens; there’s swelling, a bloody discharge, or pus; or the area isn’t improving after a few days. You may have a second- or third-degree burn. (A first-degree burn resembles a popped blister.Second- and third-degree burns look like deep ulcers.) Both are at increased risk of infection and scarring and may call for antibiotics, special dressings, or even skin grafts.

Pulled or Sore Muscle
Follow the acronym RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Gently stretch after severe pain is gone, to maintain range of motion and prevent stiffness.

Take ibuprofen to alleviate pain and swelling for two to five days after the injury.

Try a topical analgesic cream, which can relieve pain.

Soak in a hot bath three or four days after the injury. Moist heat brings oxygen to the tissues and helps loosen muscles.

Put heat on the muscle right away. Heat may feel good, but in the first 24 to 48 hours use ice to reduce inflammation.

Undergo a rigorous massage; in the wrong hands, you could end up feeling worse.

Call your doctor if…
Walking is painful or the soreness hasn’t improved in a week. You may have a hematoma (a bleeding bruise) in the muscle or a ruptured tendon.

Stomach Bug
Sip ginger tea. (To make it, add a pinch of freshly chopped ginger to a cup of hot water.) Skip ginger ale; most don’t contain much real ginger.

Stay hydrated by drinking clear liquids, like water, herbal tea, or a sports drink. Vomiting or diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which affects the body’s ability to deliver blood to vital organs. If you can’t keep anything down, suck on ice chips or Popsicles.

Stick to bland foods. Try easy-to-digest crackers, toast, or dry cereal. As you feel better, introduce soft-boiled or scrambled eggs or plain yogurt.

Drink fruit juice or coffee. The acidity of both can be irritating.

Eat protein at first; it’s harder to digest than carbohydrates. Avoid salads and whole fruits, too.

Call your doctor if…
Your symptoms get worse or last longer than 24 hours. Severe stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea can indicate gallstones or appendicitis.

Sore Throat
Stir a teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water, then gargle with the solution to reduce swelling. Repeat every few hours.

Sip herbal tea. Suck on cough drops, lozenges, Popsicles, or even a spoonful of honey. These won’t necessarily quicken healing, but they can soothe your throat, and honey has an antiviral effect. Or use an antiseptic spray that contains phenol (such as Chloraseptic) to numb the area.

Hit your doctor up for antibiotics. Most sore throats are caused by viruses; antibiotics are effective only against bacterial infections, such as strep throat.

Call your doctor if…
You don’t feel better (or you feel worse) after a day or two, or you see white spots on the back of your throat (a sign of strep).

Your sore throat recurs frequently―a possible sign of chronic post-nasal drip or reflux, a condition in which acid travels up the esophagus and causes a burning sensation.

Cold Sore
Apply a petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) to keep the sore moist and to prevent cracking.

If you get cold sores regularly, ask your doctor about an oral antiviral prescription medication, such as Valtrex or Acyclovir. One or two doses taken as soon as you feel a cold sore coming on can reduce the duration of the sore and help prevent recurrences.

Be patient. A cold sore usually goes away in a few days. In the meantime, relieve pain with a topical cold-sore treatment that contains benzocaine (like Nexcare Cold Sore Treatment) .

Try to dry it out with peroxide, alcohol, or witch hazel.

Pick at it, share drinks (even with a straw), or kiss people. Cold sores are a type of herpes, a common and contagious virus.

Cover it with a thick layer of concealer, because removing the makeup can irritate the sore.

Call your doctor if…
The sore doesn’t go away in a week or two or the pain is severe. It could be an allergic reaction.