Hang out in humidity
There’s no way to kill off the cold virus in your system. But as it wreaks havoc on your body, you can help the collateral damage heal faster. Treat your dry tissues to humidified air. “The secondary effects from the cold may be irritation to the nasal passages, and moisture may help that,” says Dr. Joanna Zed, a family physician at Dalhousie University’s Department of Family Medicine in Halifax. If you use a vaporizer, clean it thoroughly first so you aren’t inhaling mold or bacteria. “Sitting in the bathroom with a steam bath going may also be helpful,” says Zed.
Take in extra liquids
Drink lots of water, or comforting warm beverages like herbal tea or broth. Fluids will prevent dehydration and make your throat feel better. They’ll also thin mucus and reduce the risk of lung or ear infections. But avoid alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, as they can contribute to dehydration instead of preventing it.
Give your nose some TLC
A saline solution (nasal spray or drops) can ease stuffiness in your nose. “It prevents damage to the tissue, and it clears passages and allows the mucus to move along,” says Zed. Plus it’s perfectly safe. “Saline is inert, so you can use it as needed.” That’s an advantage over medicated nasal sprays, which can lead to rebound congestion later. You can buy a saline rinse at the drugstore, or even make it at home using pickling salt, baking soda and boiled water.
Gargle with salt water
Gargling with warm salted water (half a teaspoon of salt per glass) will often make your sore throat feel better, albeit temporarily. Try it every couple of hours or so. It may also prevent further infection, helping you get back to normal before you know it.
Get extra sleep
A good night’s sleep – or three – will help your body bounce back more quickly. “You’re allowing your own reserves and your own immune system to work, and to help heal you,” says Zed. Perhaps easier said than done, if you’ve got a busy household that inevitably falls apart without you. Enlist help from your partner, or call on friends to assist with the kids, the cooking or the snow shoveling.
Feed your cold
Your body also relies on a healthy, well-balanced diet to get well, so make sure you’re having frequent, nourishing meals and snacks. “Everybody’s appetite seems to be poor when they’re ill,” points out Zed. “Things that are better tolerated are things like soups, or comfort food.” Try these immunity-boosting soups.
Stamp out cigarettes
If you smoke, stop. If you can’t, then try to cut back on cigarettes while you’re sick. The smoke can irritate the respiratory system, making your cold last longer and raising your risk of other respiratory infections.
Take supplements… but not too seriously
Will zinc, Echinacea, vitamin C or garlic make a difference – besides to your bank account, that is? The evidence for these is mixed. In studies where they do appear to help, it seems important to take the supplements at the very beginning of a cold. But to date there’s no high-quality research that proves these can shorten a cold.
What won’t work?
Most of us know that a course of antibiotics won’t get rid of a cold virus, and may contribute to antibiotic resistance. Cough syrups and cold medications won’t shorten your illness, either. What about exercise? Advice is mixed as to whether physical activity will help or hinder your recovery. But it’s probably best to avoid intense exercise and focus on rest. “With heavy exercise during any sort of illness, you tend to feed sicker longer. And you may be more prone to injury if you’re not at your best,” says Zed. “Depending where you exercise, you may also be passing the virus on to other people.” So until you’re better, lay low.
Of course, the best way to reduce symptoms is to avoid catching cold germs in the first place. Zed recommends following a healthy lifestyle and diet, and quitting smoking. It’s important to wash your hands regularly and properly. “Reduce contact with people who are actively sneezing and wheezing and coughing,” Zed adds.