10 Facts About Treating the Common Cold

by Allison Tsai Editor

Colds are inevitable, and it’s natural to want to find a way to make it go away. But they're also self-limiting infections, meaning they get better on their own without needing special treatment. Still, you don’t have to suffer through a week of sore throat, runny nose and fever. There are ways to speed up recovery and make you more comfortable.

Antibiotics won’t help

A cold is caused by a virus, not bacteria. Therefore, taking antibiotics, which kill bacteria, will not help you overcome a cold or prevent it from spreading to others. Misuse of antibiotics, in fact, is a major factor in why certain bacteria are becoming antibiotic resistant.

Echinacea aids recovery, but not significantly

Echinacea has been used as an herbal remedy for a variety of illnesses, but studies have produced conflicting results regarding its effectiveness. One study found that echinacea decreased risk of spreading colds by 58 percent. Yet another study found that echinacea only reduced symptoms by half a day at most.

Vitamins and supplements not helpful

With the exception of Vitamin D, which has shown to boost the immune system, most vitamins and supplements do not help preevnt or cure a cold. Vitamin C has been found to be ineffective unless you are engaging in strenuous workouts or living in extremely cold weather. There has also been inconclusive data on the effects of zinc.

Staying hydrated helps

Colds can cause you to become dehydrated, so it’s important to drink lots of water. In addition, experts believe eating chicken soup actually aids in stopping inflammation and moves mucus. It can also help with dehydration due to the water content. Make sure to avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages, as they can cause dehydration.

Make sure to rest

Getting rest while you are sick with a cold can help your immune system fight off the virus more quickly and effectively.

Practice good hygiene

Covering your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, staying home from work or school and washing your hands frequently with warm water and soap can help prevent the spread of a cold.

Use salt water and steam

Gargling salt water when you have a sore throat can temporarily relieve symptoms. It works by drawing fluid from inflamed tissue in the back of the throat and loosening thick mucus. Inhaling steam can also help alleviate symptoms of congestion.

Use decongestants but not antihistamines

Nasal decongenstants should not be taken for more than five days. Certain people should not take decongestants, such as those with hypertension or people taking antidepressants. Antihistamines aren't recommended because they dry up nasal membranes, which slows down mucus flow.

Slight fevers are OK

If you have a high fever, it’s perfectly fine to take a painkiller to reduce it. However, if you have a slight fever, it might be better to stay off the medication. Research shows that it helps the body fight off infections more quickly. When body temperature rises, viruses and bacteria have trouble reproducing.

Try a humidifier in the cold months

Central heating can dry out the air in your home. Using an air humidifier during the winter can help keep the throat and nasal passages moist.

Allison Tsai
Meet Our Writer
Allison Tsai

Allison wrote for HealthCentral as an editor and producer for Allergy, Asthma, Cold & Flu, COPD, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Skin Care, Skin Cancer, and Sleep Disorders.