Common Cold Symptoms Got You Down? Got Water?

Health Professional, Medical Reviewer

It's hard to get through a winter without being struck by the common cold bug. When it hits you it seems to command all your attention and sometimes make a spectacle of you:

  • You get that nasal voice.

  • You're clearing your throat all the time.

- You may have embarrassing snorts and coughs to clear mucus from the sinuses.

  • Your eyes can get pink and watery and your eye lids puffy and dark.

  • Tissues don't come fast enough to keep up with the flow of nasal mucus

- You feel exhausted and tired of being sick after days go by.

Well, it's called the "common" cold for a good reason. A billion colds invade the lives of people in the U.S. each year. This highly contagious viral particle is a constantly moving target for your immune system. It generally runs its course over five to 10 days.

You probably already heard there is no cure for the common cold but symptom relief can be helpful. Cough and cold medications fill the shelves of pharmacies, but many people are interested in alternative measures to antihistamines (drying agents) and decongestants (relievers of nasal congestion).

Water has been instrumental in battling cold symptoms for years. Most doctors recommend drinking plenty of water, hot tea and soup. Nasal saline rinses or irrigation, inhaling steam and maintaining appropriate humidity in the bedroom overnight are also popular recommendations. Let's examine each of these water steps a little further.

Does drinking more water really help?

There is no scientific evidence that drinking lots more water than you normally do resolves common cold infection faster. The problem when you have a cold is that your intake of water may go down while at the same time your body releases more water (from runny nose, sweat, phlegm and sometimes more rapid breathing and coughing). Good hydration helps to loosen up mucus secretion in the nose and lungs. Other body tissues may also benefit from maintaining good hydration while sick. The body loses more than just water when sick from a cold or flu. Adding soup and juice (the basic ingredient being water) to the menu may replenish sodium and other minerals.

How does rinsing the nasal passages help?

Nasal rinses or irrigation have been the topics of several postings addressing acute and chronic sinus problems. Rinsing away crust (dried mucus), debris (small particles filtered out by the nose which gets trapped in the nasal mucus blanket as well as sloughed mucosal cells) and excessive mucus can clear the nasal passages and sinus ducts. Sinus ducts are small channels that connect the nasal passage with the sinuses, which are along the side and above the nose.

Nasal irrigation is a more invasive way of flushing the nasal passages with saline. Many people report they have fewer colds and sinus infections when consistently rinsing out the nose. Yet others have experienced difficulty with the process of gushing water up the nasal passages. Scientific studies have shown mixed results. One report from 2010 failed to show significant improvement in reducing symptoms from the common cold. The neti pot and other rinse kits are available at most pharmacies.

In my opinion nasal irrigation may be helpful in relieving sinus symptoms associated with many forms of nasal inflammation (common cold, allergies or irritant induced). The key is not to only rely on one step, drug or procedure.

Should you inhale steam?

Steam inhalation, similar to nasal rinses, helps to loosen and clear away mucus and debris from the nasal passages. Nasal congestion may be reduced by steam inhalation. Steam is not recommended for children because of the risk of accidental injury from being too hot. Having a child sit in a bathroom which has been steamed up through running hot water in the shower may be helpful. For adults, there are some table top steamers available for purchase. Some people have reported added benefit from adding menthol, camphor or eucalyptus to the steam. Be careful not to add too much of any of these substances because respiratory passages may be hypersensitive to them.

Should you increase the humidity in your home?

Humidity levels should be kept between 40 to 50 percent during the winter months when the furnace is being used. Higher than 50 percent humidity increases the possibility of indoor mold growth, and enhances dust mite growth in the home. Levels below 40 percent can over-dry the nasal passages, especially in the setting of forced-air heating. If you don't have a central humidifier, consider getting a portable unit for the bedroom area. Humidifiers can usually be turned off in late spring through early fall.

Final Words:

Water steps (hydration, nasal rinses, steam and humidity) may significantly reduce cold symptoms while your immune system battles the pesky viruses which make us feel so bad during cough and cold season. Plenty of rest and balanced meals are also important.

Do you agree?