INEVITABLY, as we head towards winter, you, or someone you know, will come down with the common cold.
There is really no cure for colds, but there are multiple remedies that might make you better faster.
Cold remedies are almost as common as the common cold itself, and many are nearly as ancient. The use of chicken soup as a congestion cure dates back centuries.
But is longevity any guarantee that a cold remedy works? Do effective cold remedies even exist? Here’s a look at some common cold remedies and what’s known about them.
If you catch a cold, you can expect to be sick for up to one to two weeks. But that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable. These remedies may make you feel better:
◆ Water and other fluids. Water, juice or warm lemon water with honey helps loosen congestion and prevents dehydration. Avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated drinks, which can make dehydration worse.
◆ Salt water. A saltwater gurgle — 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in a glass of warm water — can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat.
◆ Saline nasal drops and sprays. Over-the-counter saline nasal drops and sprays combat stuffiness and congestion. In infants, experts recommend instilling several saline drops into one nostril, then gently suctioning that nostril with a bulb syringe.
◆ Chicken soup. — Chicken soup might help relieve cold and flu symptoms in two ways. First, it acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the movement of neutrophils — immune system cells that participate in the body’s inflammatory response.
Second, it temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus, possibly helping relieve congestion and limiting the amount of time viruses are in contact with the nose lining.
◆ Over-the-counter cold and cough medications in older children and adults. Non-prescription decongestants and pain relievers offer some symptom relief, but they won’t prevent a cold or shorten its duration, and most have some side effects. If used for more than a few days, they can actually make symptoms worse. Experts agree that these medications are dangerous in children younger than two years old.
If a cough lasts after your other cold symptoms have resolved, see your doctor. In the meantime, try soothing your throat with warm lemon water and honey and humidifying the air in your house. Don’t give honey to infants.
◆ Antihistamines. — First-generation (sedating) antihistamines like chlopheniramine may provide minor relief of several cold symptoms, including cough, sneezing, watery eyes and nasal discharge. However, results are conflicting and the benefits may not outweigh the side effects.
◆ Humidity. — Cold viruses thrive in dry conditions — another reason why colds are more common in winter. Dry air also dries the mucous membranes, causing a stuffy nose and scratchy throat.
A humidifier can add moisture to your home, but it can also add mould, fungi and bacteria if not cleaned properly. Change the water in your humidifier frequently, and clean the unit according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
If your infant has a cold, sitting in a steamy bathroom for a few minutes before bedtime may also help.
The list of ineffective cold remedies is long. A few of the more common ones that don’t work include:
◆ Antibiotics. — These attack bacteria, but they’re no help against cold viruses. Avoid asking your doctor for antibiotics for a cold or using old antibiotics you have on hand. You won’t get well any faster, and inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to the serious and growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
◆ Over-the-counter cold and cough medications in young children. OTC cold and cough medications may cause serious and even life-threatening side effects in children, especially those less than two years of age.
◆ Zinc. The cold-fighting reputation of zinc has had its ups and downs. That’s because many zinc studies — both those that find the mineral beneficial and those that do not — are flawed. The highest quality trials generally show no benefit.
◆ Vitamin C. It appears that for the most part taking vitamin C won’t help the average person prevent colds. However, taking vitamin C before the onset of cold symptoms may shorten the duration of symptoms.
Vitamin C may provide benefit for people at high risk of colds due to frequent exposure — for example, children who attend group child care during the winter.
Although usually minor, colds can make you feel miserable. It is tempting to try the latest remedy, but the best thing you can do is take care of yourself. Rest, drink fluids and keep the air around you moist.
Remember to wash your hands frequently.