Ask the doctor: common cold? Home remedies that help!

The common cold is the most common infectious disease in the world, and its side effects come with dozens, if not hundreds, of home remedies to keep it out of the doctor's office. But many people ask, do they work?

"The list of things people do is huge," said Dr. Joel Rosenstock, medical director of Absolute Care. "Almost none of them work, but people swear by them."

He says that, on average, adults get three common colds per year, which means that a visit to the doctor is unlikely to be part of the cure. Many adults use over-the-counter medications, such as cold and flu relief, and an increasing number find word of mouth transmitted remedies as a way to cure the infection.

"Symptomatic relief that includes resting, staying warm, taking Tylenol or Advil if you have a low temperature can gargle with salt water to relieve pain in the throat," Rosenstock said. "Many people take cough medicine, but they really don't do anything."

The natural history of the common cold lasts about seven to ten days and can be caused by almost 200 different viruses. Doctors say it is difficult for patients to identify which virus specifically causes their infection, so treating the cold may be more difficult but not impossible.

"You can take over-the-counter antihistamines," he says. "It reduces the membranes that make it breathe easier, but decreases the blood supply, which will improve it."

Other common remedies include taking more vitamin C to reduce the duration of a cold, using steam to relieve sinus pressure, and drinking chicken noodle soup or any warm liquid to help with a sore throat, but it is temporary. "Most people think that these remedies work, but most of the time we think they are a placebo effect," Rosenstock said.

But how do we know when it's time to go to the doctor? Dr. Rosenstock says there is a very fine line. "The symptoms of a common cold, which are itchy throat, nasal congestion, runny nose and low temperature, seem like the first signs of the flu," Rosenstock said. "Influenza is a much more serious disease and it is a difficult line to differentiate between that and a cold."

On the third day, he says that the fever usually goes away with a cold and the flu, patients usually don't have a runny nose. "If in the first 48 hours and we are in the middle of the flu season, and you feel muscle and joint pain, and you think it is the worst cold you have had in a long time, I would seek medical help," he said.

Dr. Rosenstock says that what you should not do is try to strengthen yourself if the symptoms get worse. He says to see his doctor as soon as possible.

For more information about Absolute Care and the services they provide, visit their website at

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