How do I make this cold go away? Please help!
- JL from Washington, DC (and many more!)
Dear JL and all,
You are not alone! As cold and flu season kicks in, we find ourselves surrounded by more sniffles, croupy coughs, and runny noses than should be publicly permitted. All kidding aside, it’s not surprising so many people are sick when the common cold lasts an average of seven to ten days. Some colds can take up to 3 weeks to resolve, while the associated cough lasts between 2-3 weeks and often sticks around even after the infection clears.
So, how to heal yourself? First of all, antibiotics will not work in this scenario, as colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Strategies to combat the common cold focus on strengthening one's immunity. Before considering anything else, make sure to get adequate sleep (8 hours a night, uninterrupted, ideally), minimize stress (through deep breathing, yoga, or meditation), drink lots of fluids (at least 2 liters a day of water), and avoid sugar and dairy-products, which can be mucus-producing.
Oh, you already know this? What else can you do? OK, here goes. In no particular order, here are the Top 6 CitySlim Cold-Fighting Recommendations:
1. Apple cider vinegar to ease sore throat. You can either gargle with this (1 tbsp dissolved in 1 cup warm water), drink it (diluted as above), or use it like I do, as salad dressing (store-bought apple cider vinaigrette, sold at Whole Foods®). The acidic content of vinegar makes your throat less hospitable to invading organisms.
2. Zinc to decrease cold symptom severity and duration. Zinc intake has been found to reduce duration and severity of cold symptoms in several systematic reviews [1,2]. Zinc prevents binding of rhinovirus (a cause of the common cold) in the nose. Zinc sulfate comes in lozenges and syrups and should be taken within 24 hours of cold symptom onset. One review including 16 therapeutic trials with various preparations of zinc versus with placebo found that when taken within the 1st day of symptoms, zinc resulted in a decreased proportion of participants with symptoms after seven days of treatment (odds ratio 0.45, 95% CI 0.2-1) . However, the trials used a variety of zinc formulations (syrup, tablets, lozenges) and doses, so no firm conclusions could be drawn about specific treatment recommendations. Some studies found efficacy in doses ≥ 75 mg/day (taking one 10-13 mg lozenge every 1-2 hours). Considering the daily recommended value is 8 mg/day for women >19 years and 11 mg/day for men >14 years, and too much zinc can cause side effects, such as bad taste, nausea, an anosmia (loss of smell), it is best to not overdo it. Personally, I take 2 tablets of 7.5 mg of zinc for a total of 15 mg, which was the smallest dose shown to have an effect in the studies I have reviewed. Note: these are adult doses, not meant for children.
3. Oil of oregano to boost immunity. Read all about that here.
4. Vitamin C for immunity. According to a 2013 meta-analysis of 29 trials (with >11k subjects), taking at least 200 mg/day of vitamin C supplements can reduce duration of cold symptoms in adults . Personally, I take 500-1000 mg/day to prevent getting sick in the winter on days when I feel run-down or when I am around many sick people or patients.
5. Hot chicken soup to clear congestion. When drinking warm, salty chicken soup, the steam rises through the intranasal passages and seems to have an effect on reducing congestion. Three scientists once compared drinking chicken soup to hot water in easing nasal congestion in 15 subjects. Both helped increase nasal mucus velocity (in other words, unblock stuffy noses), but chicken soup did the job better .
6. Tea with cinnamon and honey. Choose an herbal, naturally caffeine-free tea before bed or green tea during the day, packed with antioxidants called catechins and a caffeine boost to reduce sinus congestion. Cinnamon bark has antiviral properties, as does honey, which also soothes a sore throat.
Many people ask about Echinacea, but the evidence for reducing duration or severity of cold symptoms is lacking. Some studies have shown more a preventive effect when taken before exposure to cold-causing viruses, but even these were not clinically significant .
Please remember to not only take care of yourself during this winter season, but also your loved ones. Always remember to wash your hands. Viruses can remain on clothing and countertops for up to 3 hours, so clean up after yourself to prevent passing your cold to others. "Time heals all wounds..." and colds, but hopefully these tips can help you heal faster!
Wishing you a warm, restful, and relaxing holiday and a Happy New Year!
1 Hemila, H. Zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of colds: a systematic review. Open Respir Med J 5, 51-58, doi:10.2174/1874306401105010051 (2011).
2 Science, M., Johnstone, J., Roth, D. E., Guyatt, G. & Loeb, M. Zinc for the treatment of the common cold: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. CMAJ 184, E551-561, doi:10.1503/cmaj.111990 (2012).
3 Singh, M. & Das, R. R. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, CD001364, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub4 (2013).
4 Hemila, H. & Chalker, E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, CD000980, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4 (2013).
5 Saketkhoo, K., Januszkiewicz, A. & Sackner, M. A. Effects of drinking hot water, cold water, and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance. Chest 74, 408-410 (1978).
6 Karsch-Volk, M. et al. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, CD000530, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000530.pub3 (2014).