The common cold is an infection that invades your nose and throat and is caused by a commonly found virus. Most people catch between two and four colds a year, depending upon the level of their immune system and how well they’re able to take care of themselves. Symptoms will usually appear one to three days after exposure to the virus and those symptoms include a runny nose, cough, nasal congestion, sneezing, watery eyes and a mild headache. Sometimes individuals will suffer from a low grade fever on the first day of their cold but this does not mean that they have the flu. (1)
The invasion of viruses in the body which causes the symptoms can be slowed, stopped or even eliminated with a few simple steps that you can take either before you get a cold or immediately upon discovering the symptoms. The first step that needs to be taken is to allow the body enough rest. Rest will help the body to heal itself, bolster the immune system and even help you feel better. Rest is even free! If you think that you can’t take the time off to stop and just rest, imagine how many more days you will have to take off if a bad cold impacts your ability to work or go to school.
The second step is to always get good nutrition, whether it’s cold and flu season or not. We really are what we eat and when we provide our body with an appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals we are rewarded with overall good health. Your diet should consist of a large amount of whole foods, meaning raw and unprocessed.
When you have a cold, or even when you are trying to prevent a cold, it is important to blow your nose regularly, rather than sniffing the mucus back into your head. There is conflicting evidence for the use of normal saline to prevent and treat a cold. To prevent the cold you can try normal saline nasal spray and gently blow the spray back out. Use normal saline spray even when you have a cold to help eliminate the viral load in your nose. When you blow hard the extra pressure can cause an ear ache or blow some of the virus back into the head. (2,3)
Mom used to tell you to gargle with salt water when you had a sore throat because it could bring temporary relief. Today researchers know that gargling with salt water can also help to prevent a cold by decreasing the viruses which are multiplying at the back of your throat. If you have a sore throat you can try other gargle remedies, such as adding lemon juice and honey to water or reducing the tickle in your throat by gargling with tea that contains tannin. Never give honey to a child less than one year old. (4)
Drinking hot liquids also helps to both prevent a cold by killing the viruses, relieve nasal congestion, can help prevent dehydration and often soothes uncomfortably inflamed membranes in your nose and throat when you already have a cold. A steamy shower can also help to improve the hydration of the nasal membranes while helping you to relax.
Stay away from sugar and dairy products when you’re sick. Sugar suppresses the immune system and dairy products will thicken mucous membranes and make it more difficult for you to remove nasal congestion or cough up chest congestion. (5)
Using hot tea to help relieve symptoms is another way of helping your body to overcome the virus and feel better quickly. Combining grated ginger root with lemon and honey makes a refreshing tea that helps your throat feel better and relieve symptoms. You might try a few cloves of crushed garlic which has antiviral and antibacterial properties or cayenne powder to taste which can help to cut through the mucus or break up a low fever.
Zinc lozenges are also readily available, found in health food stores and online, and help to reduce the duration of cold symptoms especially when they are taken within 24 hours after you first experience the cold symptoms. They work by blocking the replication of the virus in preventing it from spreading around your body. (6,7)
Sleeping with an extra pillow under your head can help to drain the nasal passages and keep them from getting impacted during the night time. If the angle is too awkward for you then add height underneath the mattress, between the mattress and box spring, to provide a more gradual slope to the bed. The idea is to keep your head a bit more elevated in order to encourage the drainage of your nasal sinuses at night.
Remember to keep yourself from becoming dehydrated, get plenty of rest and gargle several times a day with salt water. Using these simple remedies you’ll be over your cold before you know it!
(1) MayoClinic.com: Common Cold
(2) Archives of Family Medicine: A Clinical Trial of Hypertonic Saline Nasal Spray in Subjects with the Common Cold or Rhinosinusitis
(3) University of Maryland Medical Center: Sinus Headache
(4) American Association of Retired Person: Mom Was Right- Gargling Helps
(5) MayoClinic.com: I’ve heard that you shouldn’t drink milk when you have a cold because it increases phlegm. Is this true?
(6) University of Helsinki: Zinc Lozenges May Shorten Common Cold Duration
(7) Medical Hypotheses: Zinc Lozenges as Cure for the Common Cold – A Review and Hypothesis