Nothing can cure a cold, but there are some remedies that can help relieve your symptoms and prevent you from feeling so miserable. Here is a look at some common cold remedies and what is known about them.
Cold remedies that work
If you catch a cold, you can expect to be sick for a week or two. That does not mean you have to be miserable. In addition to getting enough rest, these remedies can help you feel better:
- Stay hydrated
Water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey help relieve congestion and prevent dehydration. Avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated soda, which can make dehydration worse.
Your body needs to heal.
- Soothe the sore throat.
A gargle of salt water (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water) can temporarily relieve a sore throat or itching. It is unlikely that children under 6 can gargle properly. You can also try ice chips, sore throat sprays, pills or hard candies. Do not give pills or candy to children under 3 to 4 years old because they can drown with them.
- Fight congestion.
Over-the-counter nasal drops and saline sprays can help relieve congestion and congestion. In babies, experts recommend putting several drops of saline solution in one of the nostrils and then gently aspirating them with a bulb syringe. To do this, squeeze the bulb, gently place the tip of the syringe into the nostril approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch (approximately 6 to 12 millimeters) and slowly release the bulb. Saline nasal sprays can be used in older children.
- Ease the pain.
For children 6 months or younger, administer only acetaminophen. For children older than 6 months, give acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Ask your child's healthcare provider for the correct dose for your child's age and weight. Adults can take acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or aspirin. Use caution when administering aspirin to children or adolescents. Although aspirin is approved for use in children older than 3 years, children and adolescents recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but life-threatening condition in these children.
- Drink warm liquids.
A cold remedy used in many cultures, which drinks hot liquids, such as chicken soup, tea or warm apple juice, can be soothing and can relieve congestion by increasing the flow of mucus.
- Add moisture to the air.
A cold vaporizer or humidifier can add moisture to your home, which could help relieve congestion. Change the water daily and clean the unit according to the manufacturer's instructions. Do not use steam, which has not proven useful and can cause burns.
- Try over-the-counter cold and cough (OTC) medications.
For adults and children over 5 years old, over-the-counter decongestants, antihistamines and pain relievers may offer some relief from symptoms. However, they will not prevent a cold or shorten its duration, and most have some side effects. Experts agree that they should not be given to younger children. Excessive use and misuse of these medications can cause serious damage. Take medications only as directed. Some cold remedies contain multiple ingredients, such as a decongestant plus a pain reliever, so read the labels of the cold medications you take to make sure you don't take too much medicine.
Cold remedies that don't work
The list of ineffective cold remedies is long. Some of the most common that do not work include:
These attack the bacteria, but they are not helpful against cold viruses. Avoid asking your doctor for antibiotics for a cold or using old antibiotics that you have on hand. It will not improve faster, and inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to the serious and growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
- Over-the-counter medications for cold and cough in young children.
Over-the-counter cold and cough medicines can cause serious and even fatal side effects in children. The FDA warns against its use in children under 6 years.
Cold remedies with contradictory evidence
Despite ongoing studies, the scientific jury is still out of some popular cold remedies, such as vitamin C and echinacea. Here is an update on some common alternative remedies:
- Vitamin C.
It seems that taking vitamin C for the most part will not help the average person prevent colds. However, taking vitamin C before the onset of cold symptoms may shorten the duration of symptoms. Vitamin C can provide benefits to people at high risk of colds due to frequent exposure, for example, children who attend group child care during the winter.
The results of the study on whether echinacea prevents or shortens colds are mixed. Some studies show no benefits. Others show some reduction in the severity and duration of cold symptoms when taken in the early stages of a cold. The different types of echinacea used in different studies may have contributed to the different results. Echinacea seems to be more effective if you take it when you notice cold symptoms and continue it for seven to 10 days. It seems to be safe for healthy adults, but it can interact with many drugs. Check with your healthcare provider before taking echinacea or any other supplement.
There has been much talk about taking zinc for colds since a 1984 study showed that zinc supplements prevented people from getting so sick. Since then, research has yielded mixed results on zinc and colds. Some studies show that zinc pills or syrup reduce the duration of a cold in a day, especially when taken within 24 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold. Zinc also has potentially harmful side effects. Talk to your healthcare provider before considering the use of zinc to prevent or reduce the duration of colds.