Cold Comforts

Fighting winter colds is never fun, and in the age of Covid, they can be scary. But colds are, well, a common part of life. While colds can happen at any time during the year, they are more prevalent in the winter. According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults in the United States experience an average of 2-3 colds per year, and kids tend to get more. Lots of different viruses can cause colds, but according to the CDC, 30-50% of all colds are caused by rhinoviruses. Most colds last 7 to 14 days and have a variety of symptoms.

Typical symptoms may include:

  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Sinus drainage (post-nasal drip down your throat)
  • Watery eyes
  • Fever (this is more unusual)

Truth be told, there’s no cure for a cold—not even Mom’s chicken soup. But there are some steps you can take to reduce your symptoms and keep you from feeling so miserable. Here are ways to ward off the worst of your cold.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. We all know that drinking plentiful liquids is essential to good health. The body needs water to handle all its essential functions and it’s even more critical when fighting off infection. Water, clear broth, juices, or tea with honey can help loosen congestion and keep you hydrated. If you have a favorite beverage, keep it handy so you can drink plenty of it. Stay away from alcohol and caffeinated beverages such as some sodas, teas, and coffee as these can lead to dehydration and make cold symptoms feel worse.

Some people swear by hot lemonade or warm apple juice to alleviate cold symptoms. Keep an eye on your sugar intake if you’re drinking a lot of juice. Kids under 12 months old shouldn’t consume honey.

Get your zzz’s. Your body needs to rest. Let it. While you may think that cleaning the kitchen is essential at the moment, dishes can wait. If you live with other people, ask them to take over while you recover. The more rest you get, the faster your body can fight off your cold.

Relieve a sore throat. Gargling with salt water (0.25 to 0.5 teaspoon of salt dissolved in warm water) can help relieve a scratchy throat for a time. Remember, take a drink, but don’t swallow. Gargle the saltwater in the back of your throat for a few moments. Spit it out when done. Kids under the age of 6 may not be able to gargle properly. Sucking on ice chips or throat lozenges can help too. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about sore throat sprays and lozenges, especially for children.

Mist the air. According to the National Library of Medicine, using a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer can help relieve stuffy noses, improve sore throats, and break up mucus, alleviating the discomfort of your cold. But the emphasis here is on clean: a dirty humidifier can harbor mold and mildew, both of which can cause allergic reactions that could make your cold even worse. Make sure you find a quiet humidifier that will let you sleep!

OTC medication can help. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) can help with fever or pain symptoms. While both are safe for children, make sure you follow the directions for age and weight and talk to your doctor if you’re unsure. If you’re pregnant, ask your doctor before you take anything. Some other OTC medications like decongestants or mucus-thinning meds may help adults, but side effects can be serious, especially among children. Again, consult with your healthcare provider and follow directions.

What NOT to use. Antibiotics won’t help colds. Colds are caused by viruses and antibiotics don’t work on viruses. Other alternative remedies show conflicting results. Studies of the efficacy of Vitamin C, Echinacea, and Zinc have mixed findings. Some show a reduction in severity and duration of symptoms, but Echinacea and Zinc both have potentially harmful side effects. Taking zinc, for example, often causes nausea and vomiting. Make sure you ask your doctor before adding these to your remedy list.

Don’t starve a cold! Your body needs fuel to fight off infection and maintaining a healthy diet will help. Even if you don’t feel very hungry, try to eat protein, veggies and some simple carbs to maintain your energy. Chicken soup, oatmeal, and bananas are great options.

While most mild to moderate colds are treatable at home, some people are at risk for secondary infections. Smokers, asthmatics, or anyone with a compromised immune system are all considered high-risk. If you fall in a high-risk category, see your doctor if your symptoms last longer than you’d expect from a normal cold.

Take care of yourself. A cold can be miserable and can make you feel awful for a week or two, but it will pass. Drink plenty of fluids and rest.

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