I’m just getting over a cold, and while I was huddled up in blankets feeling sorry for myself, I did a lot of research on the common cold (purely out of a selfish desire to learn how make myself feel human again). Here are a few things I discovered:
- Never, Ever Blow Your Nose Forcefully. If you remember nothing else I write here, remember this. I’ve suffered through sinus head colds since I was a wee one, and always wondered why every cold I had gave me such a nasty sinus infection while everyone else I knew got away with just sniffles and coughs. I didn’t learn the reason why until last month, when my boyfriend got a cold and kept sniffing every time his nose would run. I told him several times he should blow rather than sniff, and then finally did a Google search to find information on the topic that he would actually pay attention to. However, I was dismayed to find research indicating that blowing your nose propels mucus up into the sinuses, which can then lead to a full-blown sinus infection. Hmm… so you mean when I was honking my way though box after box of Kleenex, I was paving the way for watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and searing pain flooding my sinuses? [Insert forehead slap.] If you must blow, do so very gently, one nostril at a time.
- Vitamin C Will Not Save You. There have been several studies on this supposed wonder-cure for the common cold, and no conclusive evidence has ever shown it to be remotely effective in reducing the severity of symptoms, or the duration of the cold. Taken on a daily basis throughout the year, it may help boost your immune system to prevent you from getting sick in the first place, but that hasn’t been confirmed either. I take oil of oregano and elderberry extract based on widespread tales of their powers, but there’s no conclusive evidence for them either.
- Zinc Might Actually Do the Trick. Every time I’ve tried a zinc lozenge, I’ve hated the experience intensely, so I resent the fact that this is the one ‘natural’ supplement that actually carries some scientific weight behind it. However, zinc also comes in syrup and tablet form, so you don’t need to suck on a foul-tasting lozenge to get the benefits. Take at least 75 mg per day, within 24 hours of experiencing symptoms, until you feel well again. Note: research has shown zinc can significantly reduce the number of days you have a cold, but not the severity of your symptoms.
- Keep Your Nose Warm. Although the connection between cold weather and the common cold has been contested for decades, new research shows that in fact, cold viruses thrive in cold noses. When you breathe in cold air, you’re creating a hospitable environment in your nose for rhinoviruses while lowering your immune system’s ability to fight back. So wear a scarf across your face when outdoors in chilly weather, and do whatever you can to keep yourself toasty. When you’re sick, the combination of heat + water is especially helpful to ease congestion and stuffed up noses: take warm baths and showers, lay warm washcloths on your face and inhale steam from boiled water.
- Avoid All-in-One Medications. You know, the over the counter cold remedies that promise sniffling-sneezing-coughing-achy-sore-throat-yadda-yadda relief. I don’t like to take medication as I prefer to go the all-natural route, but sometimes I get desperate. Especially when I want to get some sleep. The problem with taking multi-symptom products is that you’re likely taking more medication than you need, and it’s difficult to know which aspects of the product are helping you and which may be causing adverse affects. If you really need immediate symptom relief, narrow it down to the one or two issues that are plaguing you most and deal with those. My personal recommendations for the best symptom relievers are below:
- Use Acetaminophen / Ibuprofen + Heat for Pain Relief. You don’t need fancy, expensive cold medications. A generic pain-reliever will help with your body aches, sore throat, sinus pain, and headache. Drink warm tea, use a heat pack or take a bath, and the heat will help provide immediate relief.
- Use Honey for a sore throat. Use it on its own or stirred into green or herbal tea, and chances are you’ll feel as much relief as you would with an over-the-counter throat lozenge or syrup. It will also provide some temporary cough relief. Raw, local honey is best according to the self-professed experts, but I’ve used generic supermarket honey when I ran out of the good stuff, and I’ve had success with it.
- Use a Neti-pot for a stuffed-up or runny nose. If you find that pouring water into your nostril and letting it flow out the other nostril seems disgusting and feels extraordinarily uncomfortable, I’m right there with you. I’ve resisted neti-pots for years, all the while hearing about their marvelous abilities to reduce (and possibly prevent) allergy and cold symptoms. But there’s medical support for this centuries-old practice, so I’m going to force myself to do it more often. Note: it’s best to do it daily for a period of 1-3 weeks (when you have a cold, or during allergy season) and then give it a rest, as consistent daily use year-round may start causing the very symptoms you’re trying to prevent.
- Get More Sleep. Yeah, I know. Hardly groundbreaking stuff. But with all the research I’ve done on this topic, the most widely recommended practice for dealing with the common cold is to sleep as much as possible. Ah, but your coughing and stuffed-up nose are keeping you awake? Yeah, me too. I discovered two helpful pre-bedtime aides: gargling with saltwater to reduce throat inflammation, and drinking a concoction made with water, honey, apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper and ginger. That combo helps relieve congestion, blocked sinuses, sore throat and coughing.
- Reduce Stress. It’s pretty tough for most of us to hit the pause button on our lives and seriously scale back on our commitments, but those of us who can will recuperate faster. This means taking naps and long baths, watching rom coms, reading novels, and drinking lots of tea—especially if someone else can make it for you, and rub your feet while you drink it. If you insist on managing your regular workload, and maintaining a vigorous fitness regime while you’re sick, expect your cold to last much longer. And pretty much every reputable medical source I found on the subject noted that reducing stress is the best thing you can do to boost your immune system, preventing future colds. A few specific things you can add to your daily routine that might help: moderate consumption of alcohol (believe it or not), moderate exercise, sex, cuddling, hugs, meditation and listening to music you enjoy.