Shorten length of cold


Tips to Shorten Cold Duration

While some dietary supplements may be able to shorten cold duration, Dr. Novey says supplements aren’t your best line of defense. “The best weapon we have against the common cold is our own immune system,” he explains.

Good nutrition, adequate sleep and exercise, and low levels of stress are what make our immune system work its best. “A failure on any one of these four points can weaken the immune system and either prolong an existing cold or lead to more frequent ones,” Novey says.

Rev Up Your Immune System to Shorten Cold Duration

In the United States, adults can expect to catch the common cold as many as four times a year, while children get anywhere from 6 to 10 colds. Novey says that generally viruses need to run their course, but we can help that course be as short as possible by taking care of our immune system. Here’s how:

Get your zzz’s. “When someone gets a cold, by far the most effective remedy is rest,” Novey says. “People who are exhausted stay sicker longer, he explains. “The body signals its need for rest by being tired. We have all experienced the fatigue of a common cold and the wish to rest. If only we would listen!”

Work out. “Exercise strengthens the immune system,” Novey says. In fact, a recent study suggests that people who exercise on a regular basis may have fewer and milder colds. Researchers in North Carolina followed just over 1,000 men and women ages 18 to 85 in the fall and winter and recorded how many upper respiratory infections they caught. The participants reported how much aerobic exercise they did and also answered questions about lifestyle, nutrition, and stress. Those who exercised five or more days a week reported 46 percent fewer colds than their sedentary counterparts — those who exercised only one day or less a week — and the number of days they slogged through cold symptoms was 41 percent lower. The researchers said one explanation could be that working out causes immune cells to attack viruses at a faster rate.

Eat right. “When one is well, a balanced diet with adequate protein promotes well-being and reduces the chance for catching a cold,” Novey says. If you do get a cold, listen to what your stomach is telling you. “The body dictates what it wants: soup, liquids — gentle foods,” he notes, adding that ginger tea and the old standby, chicken soup, are cold remedies that provide temporary relief.

De-stress. Novey says the kind of stress that “wears you down” also lowers your resistance to illnesses such as the common cold and may make one hang on longer. Finding a healthy way to cope with chronic stress can help fight off all kinds of illnesses. Relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation may be worth a try.

Can Supplements Shorten Cold Duration?

So you’ve taken care of yourself, but still you’ve caught a bug. Maybe you’ve heard that certain supplements can cut short the common cold. But do they really work? The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) says some studies show possible benefits, but there is no conclusive evidence that dietary supplements or other alternative therapies can prevent colds or reduce cold duration.

However, recent research published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that the vitamins found in fruits and vegetables might help prevent and shorten the common cold. In the study, German researchers used a fruit and vegetable supplement that contained vitamins C, E, beta carotene, and folate. Two hundred and sixty-three of the participants (mainly women nurses whose average age was 39) took four capsules of the supplement daily for eight months, while 266 participants took a placebo. The subjects reported the number of days they experienced moderate or severe cold symptoms over six months, with the supplement group reporting an average of 7.6 days with such symptoms and the placebo group reporting 9.5 days.

Here are recent findings about other supplements commonly used as cold remedies:

  • Vitamin C. According to the NCCAM, a recent review of 30 trials involving more than 11,000 people found that taking vitamin C regularly (at least 0.2 grams a day) did not lower the chance of catching a cold, but it was shown to possibly reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms. Talk to your doctor about whether taking vitamin C is right for you.
  • Zinc. “Probably the best evidence supports the use of zinc lozenges to reduce the intensity of cold symptoms,” Novey says. A recent review found that doses of more than 70 milligrams a day did reduce the duration of colds. But other studies found no benefits. And in 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned against the use of zinc-containing nasal cold remedies after receiving reports of the loss of smell in some people.
  • Echinacea. Many believe this herb can prevent or treat the common cold. Study results about echninacea have been mixed. Reviews of the research show there could be some benefits in adults, but three NCCAM-funded trials found no benefit at all.
  • Probiotics. Although there have been some studies that suggest so-called “good bacteria” found in many yogurts can help prevent or fight a cold, Novey believes they don’t work.

While it may be nearly impossible to avoid all colds, Novey says hand-washing, especially before eating, is very powerful tool: “Try it — it really works.”

I have been sick for the past two weeks and cannot seem to shake this horrific spell of constant coughing, sneezing, and headaches. Granted, I have not taken the necessary steps in order to get rid of my illness, such as getting to bed before 2 a.m. (all of this course work isn’t going to do itself!) This is my first time being sick away from home, and I’m not exactly sure which type of medicine to take. Getting enough sleep, drinking water, taking vitamins, washing your hands, and not over-stressing are good ways to attempt to keep yourself healthy. But for being in tight quarters with a lot of people for the first time, it is almost inevitable to get sick at least once this fall. So can I cut my recovery time in half by doing certain things, or do I need to wait until this illness takes its course? Many illnesses such as the “24 hour stomach bug” you can’t really do much for, and you need to let your body get rid of it itself. But how about the common cold (Symptoms including sore throat, coughing, sneezing, headaches and body aches)? I read that there is still no cure for the common cold, but can I reduce the time it takes me to feel well again?

There are always ways to calm the symptoms of the common cold, such as taking anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin, other decongestant medicines like NyQuil and Mucinex, (some people swear by chicken noodle soup), and hot liquids like tea. But can you physically shorten the length of a common cold? Science Based Medicine argues, “The common cold remains a difficult syndrome to treat effectively. In most cases it is best to just let the cold run its course.” I have had many different types of common colds in my lifetime. Some colds last three days while others can last ten days up to two weeks. I need to know how to make a ten-day cold turn into a three-day one. As I continue my research, I only happen upon health articles claiming that the cold needs to run its course, and a list of over-the-counter medications one can take to relieve symptoms. Many of these medications are able to suppress fevers, if that is the type of cold you are dealing with. WebMD claims, “Sports drinks that contain electrolytes are also an option. For most people, plain water is usually best or a broth type of soup. It’s likely you won’t feel like doing much activity, so staying in bed and getting rest is fine.” There is are disputes about whether or not mild physical activity is beneficial or hurtful for someone who is under the weather. There is way of telling if your type of cold is a cold that won’t get worse if you go to the gym. Edward R. Laskowski, M.D. argues the “above the neck/ below the neck” approach to telling if you have the type of common cold that will allow you to “sweat it out” without getting any worse.

After conducting this research, I found that Vitamin C does not actually cure a common cold. “After reviewing 60 years of clinical research, they found that when taken after a cold starts, vitamin C supplements do not make a cold shorter or less severe. When taken daily, vitamin C very slightly shorted cold duration — by 8% in adults and by 14% in children” (David T. Derrer, MD). So I haven’t been getting the appropriate amount of Vitamin C in my diet the past couple of months. This is something I’ll take note of and start doing daily, but won’t help my situation as of now. Donald W. Novey, MD claims there are five ways to shorten a cold duration by “revving up your own immune system.” The number one way to shorten a cold duration instead of passively letting it take its course is rest. The rest of the advice involves working out, eating right, de-stressing, and trying Zinc tablets. I have yet to try Zinc- tablets, so that will be my next attempt to shorten this cold.

Technology has given us a lot of amazing things: air conditioning, CRISPR, the Apple watch. Still, there’s one nagging problem that technology has yet to find the solution for: the common cold.

The best human scientists haven’t fared much better in finding the cure. Yet there are things you can do to help relieve symptoms of a cold—like a runny nose, scratchy throat, and headache—and feel much better.

To date, there is no cure for the common cold. But there are plenty of simple treatments and quick fixes out there that can help relieve symptoms and make you feel better overall. By applying these changes, you’ll be in a better position to heal naturally and recover quickly.

Use these tips to battle the cold and get back on your feet.

1) Have hot tea or chicken soup.

Or really, just have any hot liquid. There’s a reason people always tell you to drink tea or have chicken soup. “Hot liquids increase your mucociliary clearance rate,” explains Bruce Barrett, M.D., professor in the department of family medicine and community health at University of Wisconsin – Madison. You have little hairs (cilia) in your respiratory tract that help sweep mucus from the bottom of your lungs all the way up to the front of the nose, he explains. “Hot fluids increase that activity,” he says. “They actually measure it by putting a small amount of dye in the back of the throat and measuring how long it takes to go through the end of the nose.” Some research suggested chicken soup might do it better than other liquids. “I’m unconvinced,” says Dr. Barrett, although he says that if you like chicken soup and it makes you feel good, have it.

2) Gargle with salt water.

Gargling with salt water a few times a day during cold and flu season may help with swelling and loosening of the mucus. Mix and dissolve about one-half teaspoon of salt in warm water and gargle a few times a day.

3) Take a steamy shower.

The steam from a hot shower can moisten your sinus passages and throat as well as help loosen congestion. This also helps to relax your achy muscles.

burwellphotographyGetty Images

4) Relieve stress; maybe even meditate.

“When you’re under stress, your immune system ends up under-reacting to viral and bacterial infections,” says Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, M.D., internist and past president of the American College of Physicians. Perhaps that’s why a study conducted by Dr. Barrett and colleagues, published in PLoS One found that mindfulness meditation training reduced the incidence, duration, and severity of their colds. That doesn’t mean you can meditate a cold away in just one sitting session—study participants had 8 weeks of training. But it does suggest that making meditation routine could help you avoid getting sick. The study also looked at exercise, by the way, and found that people who did regular exercise were also less likely to get colds.

5) Consider zinc.

Many people swear that zinc, usually in lozenge form like Cold-Eeze and Zicam, reduce a cold’s symptoms and severity, especially if you take them within the first day or two of your cold. “There’s no definite proof, but it looks like it probably does,” Dr. Barrett says.

6) Try echinacea.

The research on whether or not this herb can prevent onset of a cold or help you get over one faster goes back and forth. Dr. Barett didn’t find definitive evidence, either, but he did discover something interesting in his research. His group gave either placebos or echinacea to some people, and no pills to others. Then, they watched to see who got colds.People who had some positive experience with echinacea—they’d taken it before and thought it worked—and who received pills, had colds that were about 2.5 days shorter than people who didn’t get any pills. It didn’t matter whether the pill actually had echinacea in it or not. “There’s a very strong placebo effect with colds,” Dr. Barrett says. That means if you think echinacea (or another harmless remedy like chicken soup) works, go for it.

7) Consider OTCs

Colds famously come with headaches, and a simple pain reliever should help alleviate those. Antihistimines can work for colds, too, if you take older generation ones, like Benadryl. “They do reduce mucus secretion,” says Dr. Barrett. “And for a lot of people, they provide a little sedation.” Which can be welcome when you’re too stuffy to sleep and too exhausted not to want to. “I don’t really recommend them, but if people want to take them, it’s fine,” says Dr. Barrett. Just beware: the new, non-sedating antihistimines won’t work at all.

And please don’t ask for antibiotics. They don’t help with colds and have the potential to make antibiotic resistance worse for everyone. When you’re suffering, you want anything that can work, we know. Turn to Netflix. Beg someone to make you chicken soup. Anything. But just don’t go the antibiotics route.

8) Eat the right foods.

That’s always good advice. But there may be something to healthy foods’ ability to prevent a cold in the first place. “If a person has certain healthy habits, the immune system in general is stronger,” says Sharon Bergquist, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Emory University. “Gut bacterial balance is a key part of your immune system,” she says. So you want to feed your good bacteria what they like to eat; that’s the category of foods considered to be “prebiotics.” Like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. What they have in common is fiber. “All prebiotics are fiber, but not all fiber is prebiotics,” she says. But if you load up on the foods above, you’ll get the type of fiber your gut bacteria likes.

9) Get enough sleep.

Getting enough sleep is critical to keeping your immune system strong, which you will need to fight germs and ward off a cold faster. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who slept less than 7 hours a night were three times more susceptible to colds than those who slept 8 or more hours per night.

10) Wash your hands.

You’ve heard it before, because it works. Soap and water is perfectly fine; these dislodge and wash away germs. Hot water feels great, but if you’re in a place where there’s none around, don’t worry: research from Rutgers University found no difference in cleaning power when water was 60 (cold), 80 (warmish), or 100 degrees. But time does matter. The longer you scrub, the fewer the germs.

Marty Munson Marty Munson, currently the health director of Men’s Health, previously served as deputy editor at Dr Oz The Good Life and director of digital content at Shape.

8 Evidence-Based Things You Can Do to Help Beat a Cold or The Flu

This year’s flu season is not messing around.

As the virus has swept the US in recent months, people have turned to some strange habits to keep illness at bay, like chugging orange juice, “starving” their fevers, and taking antibiotics. (Spoiler: None of these will help.)

Orange juice is high in sugar and there’s little to no evidence that the vitamin C it contains helps beat viruses.

Depriving yourself of nutrients while you’re sick may also backfire; your weakened immune system needs nutrients to fight off illness. And antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses – which characterise both the flu and the common cold.

Instead, there are several research-backed steps you can take to fight off illness.

Keep in mind, too, that the symptoms of the flu and the common cold can be very similar, but these preventive and defensive tips should help in most cases.

1. Gargle with plain water

If you’re just starting to feel a cold coming on, try gargling with plain water. A study of close to 400 healthy volunteers published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that those who gargled with plain water were significantly less likely to come down with upper-respiratory-tract infections (URTIs) – a type of infection often linked with colds and the flu – during the study period.

The researchers concluded that “simple water gargling was effective to prevent URTIs among healthy people.”

2. Have some chicken soup

Strangely enough, several recent studies have suggested that chicken soup may actually reduce the symptoms of a cold.

The jury’s still out on precisely why this old-school remedy appears to help, but the available evidence suggests that some component of the soup helps calm down the inflammation that triggers many cold symptoms.

For a study published in the journal Chest, the official publication of the American College of Chest Physicians, researchers found that chicken soup appeared to slow the movement of neutrophils, the white blood cells that are the hallmark of acute infection.

In an attempt to decipher precisely which part of the soup was beneficial, they also tested some of the components individually, and concluded that both the vegetables and the chicken appeared to have “inhibitory activity”.

3. Get plenty of rest

Getting enough sleep – somewhere between seven and nine hours a night – is key to a properly functioning immune system, which plays a critical role in both helping fight off an existing cold and defending you against a new one.

For a 2009 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers tracked the sleep habits of 153 healthy men and women for two weeks to get a sense of their sleep patterns.

Then, they gave them nasal drops containing rhinovirus, also known as the common cold, and monitored them for five more days.

Volunteers who regularly got less than seven hours of sleep were nearly three times more likely to come down with the cold than those who slept eight hours or more each night.

4. Try a zinc supplement or lozenge

Unlike vitamin C, which studies have found likely does nothing to prevent or treat the common cold, zinc may actually be worth a shot this season.

The mineral seems to interfere with the replication of rhinoviruses, the bugs that cause the common cold.

In a 2011 review of studies of people who’d recently gotten sick, researchers looked at those who’d started taking zinc and compared them with those who just took a placebo. The ones on zinc had shorter colds and less severe symptoms.

Zinc is a trace element that the cells of our immune system rely on to function. Not getting enough zinc (Harvard Medical School researchers recommend 15-25 mg of zinc per day) can affect the functioning of our T-cells and other immune cells.

But it’s also important not to get too much: an excess of the supplement may actually interfere with the immune system’s functioning and have the opposite of the intended result.

5. For aches and pains, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or (Advil) may help

Over-the-counter pain medications like Advil and Tylenol can help with the aches and pains that often accompany colds and the flu. The research on which one provides superior relief for viruses is inconclusive, however.

A 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal that looked at close to 1,000 people with upper-respiratory infections (not colds) suggested that Tylenol provided stronger relief, but it’s important to keep in mind that because Advil is an anti-inflammatory, it may be better for soothing swollen glands.

6. Use honey to soothe a cough

If you hate the taste of cough syrup, you’re in luck: The WHO actually recommends honey as a cough medication for children.

A 2012 Pediatrics study of 300 children who’d been sick for a week or less found that those who were given 10 grams of honey at bedtime had fewer cough symptoms (compared with those who were given a placebo).

Oddly enough, the kids given honey also slept more soundly.

7. If your nasal passages are blocked, try a decongestant and skip the Vicks.

According to Jay L. Hoecker, an emeritus member of the department of pediatric and adolescent medicine at the Mayo Clinic, menthol rubs like Vicks VapoRub won’t help relieve a stuffy nose.

Instead, the “strong menthol odor of VapoRub tricks your brain, so you feel like you’re breathing through an unclogged nose,” he wrote in a recent post for the Clinic.

What he recommends for congestion are over-the-counter decongestant tablets like Sudafed and nasal sprays, which studies suggest may narrow the blood vessels in the lining of your nose and help reduce swelling.

8. If your stomach is also upset, ginger can provide some relief.

Sometimes, getting a cold seems to throw our whole body out of whack. If you’re also feeling nauseated, bloated, or experiencing indigestion, ginger may help.

A study published in the British Journal of Anesthesia comparing people taking a placebo with those taking ginger found that just one gram of the root was helpful in alleviating symptoms of seasickness, morning sickness, and nausea induced by chemotherapy.

Ginger may also be helpful for relieving gas and indigestion in general, Stephen Hanauer, a professor of gastroenterology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told Prevention.

The root speeds up stomach emptying and helps release gas, Hanauer said.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

More from Business Insider:

Common cold

  • What is Common Cold
  • Statistics on Common Cold
  • Risk Factors for Common Cold
  • Progression of Common Cold
  • Symptoms of Common Cold
  • Clinical Examination of Common Cold
  • How is Common Cold Diagnosed?
  • Prognosis of Common Cold
  • How is Common Cold Treated?
  • Common Cold References

What is Common Cold

The common cold is an acute infection of the throat and nasal passages. It may be caused by several different viruses, the most common of which are rhinoviruses. The term ‘common cold’ refers to a set of symptoms, rather than a specific disease.Mild influenza may have similar symptoms to the common cold. Mild ‘strep throat’, which is caused by bacteria, may be incorrectly classified as a common cold, though usually it is easy for a doctor to distinguish between the two.

Common cold viruses may be spread by:

  • Contact transmission: People infected with the virus touch their mouth, nose or eyes (mucous membranes), or cough or sneeze into their hands, before touching someone else (direct contact transmission) or touching a common surface (indirect contact transmission). Cold viruses may remain alive on the skin for two hours, and on other surfaces (such as bench tops) for several hours;
  • Droplet transmission: Small particles of the virus are coughed or sneezed into the air, where it lingers before spreading to others; and
  • Large particles of the virus are coughed or sneezed into the air, and directly spread to the mucous membranes of others.

The spread of the cold from person to person is dependent on the amount of time people spend together, and the amount of virus the infected person is producing. Porous materials (e.g. tissues, handkerchiefs) are not an efficient way for the virus to spread, and do not support virus survival. Saliva is not efficient in spreading most cold viruses; 90% of individuals with colds having no detectable virus in their saliva.

Although commonly accepted to be true, cold weather does not appear to increase the risk of contracting a cold. The increased occurrence of colds in cold weather is actually due to factors associated with winter such as the increased amount of time people spend indoors with other potentially infected people. Also, environmental changes such as reduced humidity associated with indoor heating provides ideal growth conditions for the viruses that cause the common cold and also dries out the mucous membranes of the nose which naturally protect against infection.

Statistics on Common Cold

The cold is the most common acute illness within the industrialised world. On average, young children develop 6–8 colds per year, and adults have 2–4 colds per year.

The number of the colds increases rapidly throughout the autumn months, remains high during winter, and decreases during spring. Colds occur more commonly during the rainy season in tropical areas.

In the US, the common cold results in 20 million days of absence from work and 22 million days of absence from school each year.Worldwide, 25 million people visit the GP with uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infections each year.

Risk Factors for Common Cold

The following factors may increase a person’s risk of catching a cold:

  • Age: The younger you are, the more likely you are to develop a cold.
  • Gender: Boys seem to develop respiratory infections more commonly than girls during the first years of life. However, in later years girls seem to develop more respiratory infections than boys.
  • Occupation: Women who work full time in the home are more at risk of developing colds than those who work outside the home, probably because they have greater exposure to children, who have greater numbers of colds.
  • Daycare: Attendance at daycare facilities is a risk factor for developing respiratory illness. The risk increases where there are a greater number of children in the group.
  • Previous infections: A higher frequency of infection in preschool years may lower the frequency of infection in school years.
  • Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to developing the common cold, although more research is needed to understand how this occurs.
  • Stress: Psychological stress increases susceptibility to contracting a cold. The greater the stress, the higher the chance a person will catch a cold.
  • Physical activity: Heavy physical exercise increases risk of respiratory infections, while moderate activity may decrease the risk.

Once a person has been infected with a cold, the follow factors may increase its severity:

  • Chronic disease
  • Immunodeficiency
  • Malnutrition
  • Cigarette smoking: On average, symptoms persist an additional three days in smokers.

Progression of Common Cold

In most cases, the common cold is a mild self-limiting illness, lasting up to one and a half weeks.

Each of the viruses that cause the common cold has a slightly different progression. Rhinovirus is spread through viral particles entering the nose or the eye, and spreading to the nose and throat. The virus multiplies rapidly in the cells lining the nose and throat; new ‘baby’ virus particles are then released by those cells (known as ‘shedding’). A person is infectious while they are shedding baby viruses.

The dose of virus required to cause infection is low; infection will occur in 95% of people who have virus deposited in their nose.However, symptoms (clinical illness) only occur in 75% of infected individuals. Shedding of rhinovirus peaks on the second day after the virus is deposited in the nose, followed by a rapid decline. Small amounts of rhinovirus may be present in nasal secretions up to three weeks after infection, which in theory suggests the person may still be able to spread the infection. Most people are no longer infectious once their symptoms are gone (7–10 days).

The time between contracting the virus and showing symptoms (incubation period) varies considerably depending on the type of virus causing the cold. In rhinovirus infection, symptoms may occur 10–12 hours after ‘catching’ the virus. The incubation period for influenza virus is 1–7 days.

The severity of cold symptoms increases rapidly after infection, peaking within two to three days. The average duration of common cold symptoms is seven to ten days, though symptoms may be present for up to three weeks.

In most cases, the common cold is a mild, self-limiting illness, although complications may occur.

Middle ear infection (Otitis media)

In children, the most common complication of the common cold is middle ear infection, which occurs in 20% of children with colds. Pressure regulation and clearance of the middle ear is blocked due to swelling from the cold. Middle ear infections occur most frequently in children three or four days after cold symptoms start.

Of adults exposed to rhinovirus or influenza A, 50–80% also experience problems draining their middle ear.

Although the name is confusing, middle ear infections may not involve infection with bacteria. There may just be swelling and pain due to poor drainage, or due to infection with the virus itself. Antibiotics are usually not required, as they have no effect on cold viruses.


Infection of the sinuses (sinusitis) with bacteria occurs as a complication of colds in 0.5–2% of people. Problems with the sinuses are often due to the virus itself, rather than to a bacterial complication. This usually resolves on its own. Pain in the face or teeth may indicate bacterial infection, which may require antibiotics to treat.

Lower respiratory tract infection

Certain viruses that cause the common cold may spread to the lungs, causing pneumonia. The virus may make the lungs more susceptible to infection with bacteria, resulting in secondary bacterial pneumonia. The elderly and people with lung disease (e.g. COPD) are at increased risk of pneumonia following the common cold.

Exacerbation of asthma

There is a clear association between the common cold and exacerbations of asthma. Common colds (viral infection of the upper respiratory tract) are present in up to 40% of acute asthma attacks in adults. In one study of adults, symptoms of common cold were reported in 80% of episodes of wheezing and breathlessness.

Symptoms of Common Cold

Symptoms of the common cold vary depending on which virus causes the infection, as well as the age and general health of the person who is infected. Symptoms usually occur 24–72 hours after infection.

The first symptom is usually a sore or ‘scratchy’ throat, followed soon after by nasal stuffiness and discharge (runny nose), sneezing and coughing. The throat is usually only sore for a brief time. The cough symptoms are usually worse on the fourth or fifth day of illness, while the nose symptoms improve. The nasal discharge is initially watery, and becomes thicker and yellowish. This does not necessarily indicate a bacterial infection.

The cold syndrome may include other symptoms, including:

  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Hoarseness
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Occasionally muscle aches

Symptoms generally last for seven to ten days.Cough may continue for up to four weeks.

Compared with influenza, colds only rarely result in fever in adults; however, in children, fever is commonly associated with any upper respiratory tract infection. Influenza infection is far more likely to result in high fever, muscle aches and headache than a cold, and less likely to be associated with a runny or stuffy nose.

Clinical Examination of Common Cold

There is usually little for the doctor to find on clinical examination. Mild fever may be present, especially in children. The lining of the nose and throat is often red and swollen, with lots of mucous.

Although the common cold is usually easy to diagnose, the doctor may need to rule out the following conditions:

  • Influenza (high fever, headache and muscle aches are often present);
  • Sinusitis (facial pain and thick nasal discharge are often present);
  • Allergic or seasonal rhinitis (does not usually present with sore throat and cough);
  • Bacterial pharyngitis or tonsillitis (runny nose and nasal stuffiness are not usually present); and
  • Whooping cough (initially similar the common cold initially, but fits of coughing and sometimes short periods of breath-holding occur, and tend to persist for weeks);
  • Diphtheria: if the individual has travelled to a country where they may have been exposed to this disease;
  • Meningococcal infection: which produces respiratory symptoms but often also causes neurological signs; or
  • HIV sero-conversion: which often produces non-specific symptoms similar to the common cold.

How is Common Cold Diagnosed?

In almost all cases, the cold can be diagnosed without any tests needing to be done. Most adults are able to accurately diagnose themselves. In the early stages, it may be difficult to know whether symptoms of a cold are due to other conditions such as hayfever, glandular fever or strep throat, particularly in children. If persistent nasal discharge is present, especially if it is on one side, foreign bodies in the nose (e.g. crayons or toys) need to be ruled out.

If the doctor is particularly concerned about ruling out other conditions, or finding out which virus has caused the cold, they may take a throat or nose swab, or, less commonly, suck the secretions from the back of the nose with a small tube. This is rarely necessary. The treatment of the cold is the same regardless of which virus has caused it.

Prognosis of Common Cold

The common cold is usually a mild, self-limiting illness that is confined to the nose and throat, and therefore has an excellent prognosis.

Colds usually last for three to seven days, although 25% of cases last up to two weeks. Postviral cough may continue for four weeks, because the airways are more sensitive.

Following recovery from the common cold, re-exposure to the same or similar virus usually produces reinfection, which is milder and of shorter duration than the initial illness.

People who have weak immune systems, have chronic disease, are malnourished or are smokers may experience complications which may be serious, or even life-threatening. The most significant complication is secondary bacterial infection, most notably pneumonia.

How is Common Cold Treated?

The development of a ‘cure’ for the common cold is not likely any time in the near future, because the cold is caused by so many different viruses that cause illness in different ways. Current treatment for colds is therefore targeted towards control of symptoms.

The following strategies are recommended for treatment of the common cold:

  • Adequate sleep and rest;
  • Use of paracetamol (e.g. Panadol) for pain control and fever;
  • Steam inhalations for a blocked nose. Inhalation of steam is thought to improve nasal congestion by reducing the stickiness of secretions, and possibly due to heat sensitivity of the virus. Studies investigating steam inhalation efficacy have not consistently shown a benefit;
  • Cough mixture for a dry cough;
  • Drinking enough fluids;
  • In adults, gargling aspirin in water or lemon juice for a sore throat. Do not give aspirin to children without first seeking your doctor’s advice, due the the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
  • Using moisturising cream around the nose and soft tissues may help prevent sore, dry, red skin around the nose.

A doctor may also provide the following advice:

  • Information regarding the usual course and duration of the illness;
  • Reassurance that antibiotics are not required or helpful; and
  • Advice to return for review if the condition worsens or lingers beyond the expected timeframe.


There are hundreds of different over-the-counter cold preparations available. Many are principally designed to treat the nasal stuffiness and discharge, which are often the most tiresome symptoms of the common cold. There is not a lot of evidence that these medications work.

Decongestants taken as a nasal spray or as a tablet may be used to reduce nasal stuffiness.

Certain antihistamines may reduce sneezing and runny nose. Antihistamines alone are not an effective treatment for the common cold.In combination with decongestants, antihistamines may lead to some relief from a blocked or runny nose.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (e.g. Nurofen) may be used to reduce fever and sore throat associated with the common cold, and may also have a beneficial effect on cough.

Intranasal ipratropium (e.g. Atrovent) may play a role in reducing runny nose.

Cough medications are not particularly useful for the common cold, though they may be appropriate in some instances when cough is persistant.

Intranasal and oral steroids have not shown a clinical benefit in the treatment of the common cold.

Antiviral medications such as zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu) may be used effectively to treat certain patients with influenza. They are not used to treat the common cold because they are expensive, have side effects, and are likely to have only a small impact on symptoms.

Antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial infections, and as such do not have a role to play in the treatment of the viruses that lead to an uncomplicated common cold. Antibiotics have not been found to shorten the length of the common cold, and they do not reduce the likelihood of secondary bacterial infection.


Zinc has been proposed to reduce the severity and duration of colds, but its efficacy has not been proven in good clinical trials.

Echinacea is used widely to shorten the length or decrease the severity of symptoms of the common cold. The preparations of this drug vary greatly, and there is limited evidence of its efficacy for shortening or decreasing severity of symptoms or for preventing colds. Some trials have suggested that certain preparations of Echinacea, such as those based on the species Echinacea purpurea, might be effective in reducing cold symptoms and length in adults. Side effects are infrequent, though rashes have been reported in some children.

The use of vitamin C to treat or prevent the common cold has been popular for some time. One study with 11,350 participants tested doses of at least 0.2 g per day of vitamin C, and found that regularly taking vitamin C did not reduce the likelihood of catching a cold. Some trials found a significant reduction in the risk of common cold in participants exposed to short periods of extreme physical or cold stress (such as marathon running and skiing) with administration of vitamin C. Regularly taking vitamin C slightly reduced the length and severity of common cold symptoms, although the effect is so minimal that the usefulness of this is in doubt. High dose vitamin C started after the onset of cold symptoms showed no consistent effect on severity or length of symptoms. More research is required to clarify the use of this vitamin.

There are no trials of sufficient quality to support the use of Chinese medicinal herbs for the treatment of the common cold. Further research is required.


Due to the limited effectiveness of treatment for the common cold, prevention of infection is very important, particularly in vulnerable people. A ‘cold vaccine’ is not available, and is not likely to be developed for some time because the cold is caused by so many different viruses that cause illness in different ways.

Strategies to prevent developing the common cold include:

  • Limiting exposure by washing hands regularly, avoiding crowds and sick people, and disinfecting surfaces;
  • Practicing healthy habits, such as eating and sleeping well, reducing stress, stopping smoking, and regular moderate exercise; and
  • Receiving the flu vaccination will help to prevent cold-like symptoms due to influenza infection.
For more information, see Tips to Prevent Colds and Flus.

More information

For more information on the common cold and influenza, types of influenza and treatments and tips for preventing influenza, see Cold and Flu.

Common Cold References

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This is how long the average cold lasts

By: health enews Staff

Most of us have suffered or will suffer from a cold this season.

In fact, there are millions of cases of the common cold each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But how long does the common cold last?

According to Dr. David Frankel, a family medicine resident with the Family Health Clinic at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., the average cold lasts from three to ten days or up to two weeks. This time period is when someone is most likely to spread illness to others.

“Some symptoms may linger longer, so be prepared for the long haul,” says Dr. Frankel. And it’s important to note that the length of time someone has a cold may differ from person to person.

Studies have shown that zinc lozenges can shorten the duration of a cold if taken at the outset of symptoms. The most common symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue

When symptoms are strongest is also when the common cold is most contagious. Being around someone who is sneezing or coughing, or even touching something that has been sneezed or coughed on, can leave you susceptible.

There are ways to stop the common cold from spreading to others and to prevent catching it. In order to prevent illness from spreading, Dr. Frankel’s best advice is to frequently wash your hands and to limit contact with those who appear to be ill. “These viruses travel through the air via secretions in the form of droplets that can easily be introduced into your system” says Dr. Frankel.

You should be sure to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and wash your hands and body as much as possible. Instead of using your hand to cover your mouth, try using a tissue or your elbow if there are no tissues handy. Your hand has more of a chance to spread illness, according to the CDC, so wash them as much as possible and throw used tissues away. Hand sanitizer is your friend, so use it whenever soap and water aren’t readily available. Once symptoms begin to dwindle, you become less contagious.

There are plenty of ways to treat the common cold.

“The advice I give my patients if they are subject to a cold or virus is to simply rest and get plenty of fluids” says Dr. Frankel. “I encourage patients to stay hydrated and eat as tolerated. If caught within 48 hours, anti-viral medications may be an option, but these will only shorten the duration of the illness – usually by about two days; however, it will not affect the severity.”

The Step-By-Step Stages of a Cold—Plus How to Recover Fast

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Ever wish you could tell that cold to just chill out? The average American is afflicted with two or three colds per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). While they’re frustratingly common-and contagious-this condition is a bit like a snowflake. No two are alike.

“There are no official stages of a cold. Each is individual and follows its own path. Some last for hours, others for days or even weeks,” says Adam Splaver, M.D., a cardiologist in Hollywood, FL.

But there are some general trends in cold symptoms, timelines, and treatment methods. From “how long does a cold last?” to “how do I feel better faster?” we spoke to medical experts for a complete guide to (fighting back against) the common cold.

How do I catch a cold, and what are the most common cold symptoms?

As many as half of all colds have an undetermined viral cause. Although as many as 200 viruses can trigger a cold, the most common culprits are strains of the rhinovirus. It’s the root cause for 24 to 52 percent of colds, according to research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Coronavirus is another strain that’s fairly common among adults in winter and early spring.

“Colds can be caused by many different viruses and can’t be cured with antibiotics. Contrary to some popular lore, they don’t turn into bacterial infections and don’t lead to sinus infections, pneumonia, or strep throat,” says Christopher McNulty, D.O., the urgent care medical director for DaVita Medical Group in Colorado Springs, CO.

It can be tricky to tell the difference between a cold and the flu, since they tend to strike at about the same time of year-and your body doesn’t have an alert when the influenza virus enters. (If only!) The CDC says that flu symptoms are typically more severe, however, and may include chills and more extreme fatigue. (Related: Flu, Cold, or Winter Allergies: What’s Taking You Down?)

Both colds and flu viruses are spread by hand-to-hand contact with a virus or by breathing in air that’s been contaminated by droplets laced with the virus. So when an infected individual blows her nose, coughs or sneezes, then touches a doorknob or restaurant menu, for example, you can pick up the same virus. Those hardy rhinoviruses can hang on for about two days, continuing to infect more people who touch the same object.

From there, cold symptoms tend to pop up two or three days after the virus enters your body.

“A cold can start as a tickle in your nose, a scratchy throat, a subtle cough, a bothersome headache, or a feeling of utter exhaustion. The virus affects your mucosa, the linings of your airways, and alerts your immune system that something big is about to go down. Your immune system starts mounting an attack on these unwanted pests,” says Dr. Splaver.

Chemicals are secreted that activate the immune response, which leads to “the runny nose, cough, and all-too-pervasive snot and phlegm,” he adds.

While they can be pesky, remember that “many of the cold symptoms we experience are reactions the body takes to help itself get healthy again,” says Gustavo Ferrer, M.D., program director of the Aventura Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowship in Aventura, FL. “Congestion and mucus production stop the foreign invaders, coughing and sneezing gets the contaminants out, and a fever helps certain immune cells function better.”

How long does a cold last, and what are the stages of a cold?

“How long the symptoms take to manifest, as well as how long they last, varies from person to person, depending on how well an individual takes care of oneself. Not all symptoms manifest in everyone. Some people are sick for a day, while others have a cold for a week or more, Dr. McNulty says. (So, in other words, you’re not imagining things! Your cold might actually be worse than everyone else’s.)

So while cold length, cold symptoms, and other factors can vary, the stages of a cold generally play out like this, explains Dr. McNulty:

2 to 3 Days After Infection: The Climb

The virus infects the mucous membranes in the upper respiratory tract, which stimulates inflammation in the form of heat, redness, pain, and swelling. You may notice more congestion and coughing as the body produces more mucus to protect the surface of the respiratory tract. This is also when you’re most contagious, so stay home from work or school and avoid large crowds, if possible.

4 to 6 Days After Infection: The Mountain Top

Cold symptoms move up to the nose. Swelling of the mucous membranes in the nose and sinuses intensifies. Blood vessels dilate, bringing white blood cells into the area to fight the infection. You may notice more nasal drainage or swelling, plus sneezing. Additional symptoms include a sore throat (caused by excess mucus draining down the throat), low-grade fever, dull headache, dry cough, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. As the excess mucus works its way through the body, you may find some collecting in the ear tubes, slightly disrupting your hearing.

7 to 10 Days After Infection: The Descent

By the time you reach the final stages of a cold, antibodies are overpowering the virus and symptoms should begin to tame. You may still detect some minor congestion or fatigue. If cold symptoms persist beyond 10 days, see your doctor.

Are there any tricks to recover from a cold more quickly?

Mom’s Rx of chicken soup and rest was-and is-wise, Dr. McNulty says.

“Treating symptoms alone does not shorten the course of disease. An insufficient amount of research has been done on over-the-counter products to determine if they are effective in reducing the length and severity of a cold,” he says. “What’s most important is to rest, hydrate, and eat nutritious foods.” (Related: How to Get Rid of a Cold Lighting Fast)

Zinc (found in products such as Zicam), elderberries, aged garlic, and vitamins C and D have been proven in a few studies to help treat cold symptoms, but research is limited and none actually help prevent or fix the viral condition.

And since the viral causes vary, it’s unlikely we’ll have a cold vaccine any time soon, Dr. Splaver adds, “so for the time being, we just have to grin, bear it, and cough it out. It will eventually go away.”

As you wait it out, Dr. Ferrer is a big proponent of a little tidy-up treatment. “Cleaning your nose and sinuses-the main entryways when germs invade the body-can assist in the natural defenses. A natural nasal spray with xylitol, such as Xlear Sinus Care, washes the nose and opens the airway from congestion without the uncomfortable burning sensation people experience with saline alone. Clinical studies show that xylitol also breaks up bacterial colonies and prevents bacteria from sticking to tissue, allowing the body to wash them out effectively,” Dr. Ferrer says. (Here, 10 home remedies to fight back against cold symptoms and feel better fast.)

How can I prevent a cold next time?

Dr. Ferrer has a top five list for how to keep future colds at bay. (Here, more tips on how to avoid getting sick during cold and flu season.)

  1. Wash your hands often throughout the day, especially in public places.

  2. Drink plenty of water, since it’s a crucial factor to aid in the body’s defense tactics.

  3. Eat a healthy diet full of protective vitamins and nutrients. These 12 foods are proven to boost your immune system.

  4. Avoid big crowds if there are a high number of flu cases in your area.

  5. Cough and sneeze hygienically into a tissue, then throw it away. Or cough and sneeze into your upper shirt sleeve to completely cover your mouth and nose.

Above all else, remember that “sharing is not caring when it comes to colds,” Dr. Splaver says. “It’s best to be courteous when you are sick and refrain from shaking hands and spreading the love. Stay at home for a day or two. It does your body good and keeps the virus from spreading.”

  • By By Karla Walsh

The Common Cold Remedy That Gets You Well Sooner

Knowing that there’s no “cure” for the common cold, we sometimes think of a common cold remedy as just something that might help us feel slightly less bad while our cold runs its natural course. In fact, there’s a common cold remedy that can do better than just easing your symptoms – a common cold remedy that dramatically reduces the duration of the typical cold.*

Cold-EEZE® Cold Remedy Cuts Your Cold Nearly in Half*

Cold-EEZE® is a homeopathic cold remedy made with zinc gluconate. Careful testing at prestigious research clinics has proven that Cold-EEZE® lozenges, a common cold remedy, help cold sufferers recover faster.* For example:

  • In research performed at Dartmouth College and published in the Journal of International Medical Research, clinicians studied 73 cold sufferers ages 18 to 40. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, patients who started taking zinc gluconate lozenges (the active ingredients found in Cold-EEZE®) within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms were recovered in 4.3 days, on average. By contrast, patients taking placebos had symptoms drag on for over a week on average.
  • In a second double-blind, placebo-controlled study, conducted at the Cleveland Clinic and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers observed 100 cold patients, half of whom were given a Cold-EEZE® lozenge (common cold remedy) while the other half were given placebos. Those who took Cold-EEZE® Cold Remedy were symptom-free in an average of 4.4 days while the control group members had cold symptoms for an average of 7.6 days.

Take Cold-EEZE® Common Cold Remedy at the Very First Signs of a Cold

For best results, start taking the Cold-EEZE® common cold remedy at the very first signs of a cold. Since Cold-EEZE® Cold Remedy is safe to take with most other medications including cold and cough remedies, you can use your preferred symptom relievers while also taking Cold-EEZE® Cold Remedy to shorten your cold.*

Proven effective and safe, Cold-EEZE® Cold Remedy is the #1 selling cold remedy lozenge and the #1 pharmacist recommended cold remedy. For people who prefer oral sprays, we also offer our new oral spray in an easy to carry bottle. Two quick sprays deliver the same effective common cold treatment as one Cold-EEZE® Cold Remedy lozenge.

Find a store near you that carries Cold-EEZE® Cold Remedy, or stock up on Cold-EEZE® from our online store (free shipping on all orders over $25) so you’re prepared the next time you or a loved one catches a cold.

Cold-EEZE®. Shorten your Cold! Don’t Just Treat your Symptoms.

* Cleveland Clinic (1996) and Dartmouth College (1992) studies demonstrate that Cold-EEZE® lozenges shorten the duration of the common cold. For more information, click here.

Even though most people will deal with aches and pains, stuffy noses, and sore throats a couple of times during the colder months, there still isn’t a cure for the common cold.

Amazon The Doctors Book of Home Remedies Prevention $25.99 $19.18 (26% off)

Why? More than 200 viruses are responsible for the one billion colds Americans deal with each year , hindering most scientists’ ability to concoct a magic solution that will work against them all. It’s clear that antibiotics—which are highly effective at knocking out bacterial infections—are useless against colds, which are caused by viruses. So most people try to ride it out and hope the sniffles will disappear in a week or so.

It’s true: sometimes you just have to let a cold run its course—but there’s much more you can do to ease your way through the symptoms more comfortably and quickly, doctors say. Ready to get out of bed? Here are 26 ways to get rid of a cold fast.

See if vitamin C works for you

Justin Tierney / EyeEmGetty Images

“Vitamin C works in the body as a scavenger, picking up all sorts of trash—including virus trash,” according to Keith W. Sehnert, MD, author of How to Be Your Own Doctor…Sometimes. Vitamin C may also cut back on coughing, sneezing, and other symptoms, although scientific studies produce mixed results when the vitamin is put to the test. One review of research concluded that vitamin C doesn’t really prevent colds, but it did reduce the number of days people experienced cold symptoms by 8 to 9 percent.

If you’re going to take vitamin C, experts recommend that you having 100 to 500 milligrams a day. To help maintain levels of vitamin C throughout the day, take half of the recommended dose in the morning and half at night.

Zap it with zinc

Studies show that people who sucked on zinc lozenges that contained at least 13.3 milligrams of zinc experienced a significant reduction in the duration of their cold symptoms compared to those who popped a placebo, according to the National Institutes of Health.

This includes things like a sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches, says Elson Haas, MD, medical director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, California. “It doesn’t work for everyone, but when it works, it works,” he says.

While zinc has an unpleasant taste, there are many brands of zinc lozenges available in a variety of flavors. Just remember to check the label, as the amount of zinc varies from brand to brand. Don’t overdo it, either. Taking more than 40 milligrams of zinc a day can cause nausea, dizziness, or vomiting. High doses over an extended period can also hinder your ability to absorb copper, another vital mineral.

🍊Don’t take vitamin C and zinc at the same time. The two bind together, making zinc less effective. Take the vitamin first or wait half an hour after your zinc lozenge has disappeared to take it.

Give grapefruit a go

In the early stages of a cold, try this recipe from Brian Berman, MD, director of the University of Maryland School of Medicine Center for Integrative Medicine and founder of the Institute of Integrative Health: Place a whole unpeeled grapefruit, sectioned into four pieces, in a pot and cover with water; heat to just under a boil. Stir and add a tablespoon of honey, then drink the liquid as you would a tea.

“The simmering releases immune boosters from the grapefruit into the water—vitamin C and flavonoids hidden between the rind and the fruit,” he says. “The concoction packs more punch than store-bought grapefruit juice, plus the warmth eases a sore throat.”

To beef up your body’s healing response, Dr. Berman swears by liquid olive leaf extract, available on and at health food stores. Studies suggest that its antiviral qualities can help treat colds. “You end up getting rid of mucus sooner, and it helps your immune system fight back as well.”

Eat breakfast

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Any well-rounded breakfast may go a long way in helping to keep colds at bay, according to a study from the United Kingdom. Researchers there found that people who regularly eat breakfast report having the fewest number of colds and illnesses, perhaps because breakfast is simply a marker of a healthier lifestyle overall.

Not sure how to start your morning when you don’t even want to get out of bed? Try scrambling up two eggs (for zinc) with 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (immunity-boosters) and a side of spicy salsa (to ease congestion).

Be positive

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A positive attitude about your body’s ability to heal itself can actually mobilize immune-system forces, says Martin Rossman, MD, author of Fighting Cancer from Within. He teaches this theory by getting his patients to practice imagery techniques to combat colds. It sounds a little hokey, but try it for yourself—it can’t hurt you. After bringing yourself into a deeply relaxed state, “imagine a white tornado decongesting your stuffed-up sinuses,” he suggests, “or an army of microscopic maids cleaning up germs with buckets of disinfectant.”

Take it easy

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Extra rest enables you to put all your energy into getting well. It can also help you avoid complications like bronchitis and pneumonia, says Samuel Caughron, MD, a fellow in the American College of Preventive Medicine. Take a day or two off from work if you’re feeling really bad, he advises. At the very least, skip some of your everyday activities and reschedule your time.

“Trying to keep up with your regular routine can be draining, because when you’re not feeling well, your concentration is down, and you’ll probably need to double the amount of time it takes you to do things,” Dr. Caughron says.

…and while you’re at it, be a homebody

When you’re sick, parties and other good times can wear you out physically, compromising your immune system and causing your cold to linger, says Timothy Van Ert, MD, a family physician in Mcminnville, Oregon. Stay home and snuggle up.

Layer up

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Bundle up against the cold, advises Dr. Sehnert. This keeps your immune system focused on fighting your cold infection instead of displacing energy to protect you from the frosty temps.

Take a walk

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Mild exercise improves your circulation, helping your immune system circulate infection-fighting antibodies, says Dr. Sehnert. Do gentle exercises indoors or take a brisk half-hour walk, he suggests. But refrain from strenuous exercise, he warns, which could wear you out.

Go ahead, go outside

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Despite its name, getting a cold has nothing to do with temperature. (It’s caused by a viral infection, period.) In fact, a classic 1968 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that colds were no more frequent or severe in people who were chilled than in those who weren’t chilled. So if you think getting some fresh air will lift your spirits and make hanging at home and willing your cold to go away a bit more bearable, we say go for it.

Feed your cold

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The very fact that you have a cold may indicate that your diet is putting a strain on your immune system, says Dr. Haas. Counteract the problem, he advises, by eating fewer fatty foods, meat, and milk products, and more fresh fruit and vegetables.

What you feed your immune system may also matter. A study conducted by Simin N. Meydani, DVM, PhD, looked into the effect of taking extra vitamin E (found in almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and wheat germ) for colds. Although popping a daily supplement of 200 IU of vitamin E didn’t significantly shorten the duration of colds in the study, the participants who took the supplement had significantly fewer colds than those who didn’t take vitamin E. (Here’s exactly what to eat when you have a cold.)

Load up on liquids

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Drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water, juice, tea, and other mostly clear liquids daily help replace important fluids lost during a cold and help flush out impurities that may be preying on your system. “Remember: Dilution is the solution to pollution,” says Dr. Haas.

Use an antihistamine if you can’t stop sneezing

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Take an antihistamine, which blocks your body’s release of histamine, a chemical that causes your watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. Look for products like Chlor-Trimeton, which are available over-the-counter, advises Diane Casdorph, BS, PharmD, a clinical assistant professor in the department of clinical pharmacy at West Virginia University School of Pharmacy in Morgantown.

Warning: Antihistamines frequently cause drowsiness, so save these for bedtime or for when you won’t be driving or doing anything that requires quick reactions. If drowsiness is a problem, make sure to go for a nondrowsy formula like Claritin (just have it approved by your doc first), or talk to your doctor about options that are available by prescription.

Stop smoking

Smoking aggravates a throat that may already feel irritated from a cold, says Dr. Caughron. It also interferes with the infection-fighting activity of cilia, the microscopic “fingers” that sweep bacteria out of your lungs and throat. So if you can’t kick the habit for good (it’s never too late!), at least try to avoid it while you have a cold.

Unstuff your nose with a decongestant

First, check your medicine cabinet and make sure you aren’t taking an old product that contains phenylpropanolamine, which was voluntarily withdrawn by manufacturers when the FDA warned that it was associated with an increased risk of stroke, especially in women.

Products currently on the market that do not contain phenylpropanolamine include Sudafed, Actifed, Dristan, and Contac. Before taking a nonprescription decongestant, discuss it with your doctor or pharmacist. Nasal sprays and drops, such as Afrin and Neo-Synephrine, are also effective decongestants. You shouldn’t use them for longer than three days, says Kenneth Peters, MD, medical director of the Northern California Headache Clinic. Overuse can result in a rebound effect, meaning your nose becomes more congested than ever, requiring more medication.

Sudafed PE Congestion Tablets Afrin Original Nasal Spray $15.00 Neo-Synephrine Extra Strength Spray Contac Cold+Flu Caplets

Gargle with salt

Gargle morning, noon, and night—or whenever it hurts most—with salt water, Dr. Van Ert says. Fill an 8-ounce glass with warm water and mix in 1 teaspoon of salt. The salt water will help soothe your sore throat.

Sip a hot toddy

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Clear your stuffed-up nose and help yourself to a good night’s sleep by drinking a hot toddy—consisting of a liquor, such as rum, water, sugar, and spices—or half a glass of wine before bedtime, suggests Dr. Caughron. Don’t consume any more than that, however, because too much alcohol can stress your system, making recovery more difficult. Hot toddies only help you find momentary relief from your symptoms—they don’t actually cure a cold.

Drink tea at bedtime

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If you rather skip the booze, go for another warm drink if you feel restless before bed. For a good night’s sleep, brew a cup of hops, valerian herb tea, or Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Herbal Tea, all of which have a natural tranquilizing effect. For even better results, Van Ert suggests adding a teaspoon of honey, a simple carbohydrate that has a sedative effect.

Soothe your throat with licorice root

Licorice root tea has an anesthetizing effect that calms irritated throats and relieves coughs, says Dr. Van Ert. Although licorice root is available in tea bags, he prefers making his own. Just put the root in a nonmetallic tea ball and steep in hot water for the desired amount of time. Drink it daily. (Check out five more teas for your sore throat.)

Breathe in some steam

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Taking a steamy shower can help clear congestion, Dr. Peters says. Or heat a teakettle or pot of water to boiling; turn off the flame; stand above the kettle and drape a towel over your head, creating a tent; and inhale the steam until it subsides. This also relieves your cough by moistening your dry throat, he says.

You can also boil a pot of water, let it cool for about 1 minute, and then mix in a teaspoon of medicated VapoRub, suggests Woodson Merrell, MD, author of The Detox Prescription. Lean over it with your head about a foot from the steam. Again, make a tent over your head with a towel, and inhale for 5 minutes.

Another idea: Put a few drops of eucalyptus oil in a hot, running shower and inhale the steam as it accumulates, says Benjamin Kligler, MD, an associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. (Note: The room may be too hot for children.) You may also find comfort using a humidifier close to your bed at night, adds Dr. Van Ert.

Rinse out your nose

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Your nasal congestion may also respond to saltier measures: Dr. Merrell rinses his sinuses with a store-bought nasal saline solution (or, in a pinch, dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water) to wash out pollen and thin mucus. Dr. Kligler also suggests irrigating your nose using contact lens saline solution or a neti pot. (Don’t worry, neti pots aren’t dangerous when used correctly.)

Andy Spooner, MD, chief medical information officer at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, says his two children willingly “hose their nose” when they’re sick by squirting the solution up each nostril with a bulb syringe. “Buy saline by the case, and start your kids early. It provides instant relief of congestion without side effects,” he adds. “It won’t shorten your cold, but being able to breathe through your nose makes the wait more pleasant.”

Load up on cough drops and syrups

Look for a product that contains cough-suppressing antitussives such as dextromethorphan, says Casdorph. These include Vicks cough drops and Robitussin DM cough syrup, which also contains an expectorant to loosen phlegm.

Lozenges can also combat coughs. Many of them contain topical anesthetics that slightly numb your sore throat, says Dr. Van Ert, which relieves your need to cough. Sucrets, Cepacol, and Cepastat sore throat decongestant lozenges are among them.

Menthol or camphor rubs have a soothing, cooling effect and may relieve congestion and help you breathe more easily, especially at bedtime. Apply Vicks VapoRub or a similar product to your bare chest, cover up, and get a good night’s sleep, recommends Dr. Van Ert.

Vicks Menthol Cough Drops Sucrets Classic Sore Throat Lozenges, Wild Cherry Cepacol Maximum Strength Throat Drop Lozenges, Honey Lemon Cepastat Sore Throat & Cough Lozenges, Cherry

Use petroleum jelly on a sore nose

Relieve a nose raw from blowing by using a cotton swab to dab on a lubricating layer of petroleum jelly around and slightly inside your nostrils, suggests Dr. Peters.

Choose chicken soup

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A longtime folk remedy is now a proven fact. A cup of hot chicken soup can help unclog your nasal passages. Researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach found that chicken soup increases the flow of nasal mucus. Nasal secretions serve as a first line of defense in removing germs from your system, the scientists say. It’s also known that garlic and onions have antiviral properties, and adding some spice in the form of cayenne or chile peppers can help unclog nasal passages, too.

Medicate at night

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Don’t let your cold symptoms keep you from getting a healing night’s sleep. Numerous medications for colds are available without a prescription. Some treat specific symptoms. Others, like NyQuil and Contac, contain a combination of drugs—plus alcohol, in some cases—aimed at treating a wide range of symptoms.

These combination drugs, however, can have many uncomfortable side effects, such as nausea and drowsiness, says Dr. Van Ert. “I recommend taking these at night since you won’t feel the side effects while you’re sleeping.“ If you need to be on medications during the day, he suggests using those that treat just the symptoms you’re experiencing. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully, he advises.

Ease aches with aspirin or acetaminophen

Both of these options can help ease pain, but don’t overdo it, says the Food and Drug Administration. The absolute maximum limit for acetaminophen is 4,000 milligrams each day (although you can start much lower, depending on the instructions of your medication). The same limit goes for aspirin. If you’re unclear about how much to take, consult with your pharmacist first.

When should you call your doctor about your cold?

If your cold is accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms, see your doctor. Your problem may be more serious than the common cold.

  • A fever that remains above 101°F for more than three days, or any fever above 103°F
  • Any hot, extreme pain, such as an earache, swollen tonsils, sinus pain, or aching lungs or chest
  • Excessive amounts of phlegm, or phlegm that is greenish or bloody
  • Extreme difficulty swallowing
  • Excessive loss of appetite
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

Additional reporting by Allison Young

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