Column: Tips and tricks for treating common ailments

Patients often visit their physician for minor ailments and discomfort that may also be treated at home. Whether a cough or cold, a nagging injury, fatigue, a chronic condition or a rash, there are often simple home remedies one can undertake to improve their symptoms. Below are some tips and tricks that can save you a trip to the doctor. Please take note, while some of these tips and tricks may relieve and even completely resolve minor conditions, if your symptoms persist make sure to get them evaluated by your physician.

Nasal congestion/runny nose

Use a saline nasal spray to relieve your symptoms. Although it may seem counterintuitive to squirt more liquid into your nose, the saline (salt-water) spray will actually help improve your symptoms by allowing your nose to absorb the mucous. If the cause is dryness, avoid antihistamines and decongestants as this can accentuate the symptoms. Use a humidifier in your home during the cold winter months and always maintain good fluid intake.

Afternoon fatigue

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If you are a coffee, tea, hot chocolate or cola drinker and seem to be tired every afternoon, it may be "caffeine overdose" and/or dehydration. Decrease the intake of these products and increase your water intake. Better hydration and less caffeine should help to resolve the afternoon fatigue.

Sports injuries

Injuries from playing sports are common. Specifically, contact with other players or falling to the ground often result in chest sprains or rib fractures, which can be extremely painful. Such injuries can result in a patient having difficulty taking deep breaths, coughing, sighing, sneezing or even yawning. If a patient cannot cough or yawn properly, it can lead to pneumonia. If you have pain in your rib cage, place the palm of your hand over the affected painful area and place the other hand on top of the first hand. Next, apply moderate pressure to the area. You will find it much easier to take a deep breath, cough and sneeze with this "splinting" technique.

Throat clearing

Constant throat clearing may be a sign of gastric reflux disease. If you have this symptom, try an over-the-counter antacid medication such as Prevacid or Prilosec. Also, decrease your intake of coffee, tea, alcohol, spicy foods and chocolate. Remember, cigarette smoking also makes reflux worse. Throat clearing may improve over the next few weeks after these lifestyle changes.

Stubbed toe

If you stub your toe, tape the injured toe to the largest adjacent toe for support. By "buddy-taping" the toe, it will immediately reduce the pain and discomfort.


If you find you frequently overeat and are having trouble with your weight, pour water over your food as soon as you feel full. A "soaked" meal usually takes away the desire to continue to eat.

Cold winter hands

Try to use mittens rather than gloves. Mittens allow all the fingers to share the heat, while gloves isolate the fingers increasing the risk for frostbite and pain. Don't forget that dehydration can also make these symptoms worse by lowering blood pressure. Keep well hydrated.

Burn trouble

Burns can be extremely painful and often very serious requiring medical treatment. However, for minor burns, apply ice immediately and a cooling first-aid spray. Also, applying granulated sugar to your tongue immediately upon burning it from a hot liquid often lessens the pain and duration of the burnt symptoms.


Rashes in the groin area, beneath the breasts, in the gluteal folds or under the arms are commonly caused by fungal infections. Applying baby powder to these areas twice a day should help with the discomfort and the cool and dry environment with make it difficult for the fungus to survive.

Pain in the butt

Pain and itch from hemorrhoids tend to improve greatly by taking a hot bath.

Tennis, anyone?

If you are not sure if you have tennis elbow, simply extend your affected arm out in front of you and try to lift the middle finger on your hand while someone tries to resist this movement. If the cause of your elbow pain is tennis elbow, it will increase pain in the elbow much more than any other finger on your hand does performing the same maneuver. To treat these symptoms, remember to rest, place ice over the area and use a tennis elbow band for support.

Tips and tricks can be useful for immediate relief from discomfort; however, remember that persistence of such ailments and any concerning medical issues should always be evaluated by your physician. Family remedies and old wives' tales don't always work; Grandma's chicken soup may make you feel better, but may not actually make you better. Use your common sense -- it is often the best medicine to swallow.

Dr. Michael Schwartz is board certified in internal medicine with a private practice in Darien. For comments or questions, visit his website at