by Ediva Zanker
This article was originally published on Sharecare.
Aside from having an excuse to binge watch the latest season of your favorite TV series, there aren’t too many perks of having a cold. Between the coughing and sneezing, you may wonder how you even caught a cold in the first place. But before you start blaming your best friend or family member, it’s important to know how the common cold spreads.
The common cold is a contagious viral infection that can be spread by direct contact with someone who has a cold. It can also be transferred from one person to another by way of tiny air droplets released through a sneeze or cough, or by someone blowing their nose. Some cold viruses can even live on surfaces for several hours. Keeping your overall hygiene in check, including frequently washing your hands for 15 to 30 seconds, can help prevent the spread of germs.
Typical symptoms of the common cold are a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, a sore throat from post-nasal drip, a cough or a headache. Generally, symptoms of a common cold persist for three to seven days, or in some cases, up to two weeks.
Although there is no proven cure for the common cold, there are ways to get some relief. Dr. Kevin Bohnsack from St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor in Michigan gave us some intel into common cold remedies that actually work.
Use a Humidifier
A humidifier won’t necessarily get rid of your cold, but it might make it easier for you to breathe while you sleep. If you have a stuffy nose, a humidifier will help keep the mucus membranes, or the lining of the nose, moist. Although humidifiers can be a great tool to generate moisture, always remember to clean your humidifier. You can spread germs and mold through the air if you don’t rinse it out and scrub it with dish soap and warm water frequently. Keeping your humidifier clean is especially important for people with allergies or asthma. Try to keep your room’s humidity somewhere between 30 and 50 percent—too high or too low of a humidity level can make your cold worse. If you can’t get a humidifier, saline nasal sprays are also a great way to ease a stuffy nose.
Take Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps prevent cell damage, as well as maintain healthy cell tissues and a healthy immune system. A review of previous studies found that regular use of vitamin C supplements shortened colds by 8 percent in adults and 14 percent in children. When children took one to two grams of vitamin C a day, their colds were actually shortened by 18 percent. “There aren’t any proven studies that show that taking vitamin C on regular basis during the cough and cold flu season can prevent a cold. In essence, it is a possibility,” says Dr. Bohnsack. There’s no harm in taking vitamin C in moderation, but, as always, check with your doctor before taking any new supplements.
Gargle with Salt Water
Your throat may feel like it’s on fire, but your doctor told you it’s not strep throat. If you have bad post-nasal drainage that’s irritating the throat, gargling with saltwater may relieve pain, although it’s not a guarantee. Try mixing 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of table salt into four to eight ounces of warm water. While gargling with salt water won’t fight the cold infection, it’s not likely to be harmful.
Drink Lots of Water
There’s no actual evidence that hydration reduces the duration of cold symptoms, but it can help ease symptoms. Drinking plenty of water can help loosen congestion in the throat, prevent dehydration and maintain the balance of bodily fluids. Staying hydrated can especially help if you feel a fever coming on. Anytime you’re sweating out your liquids, it’s important to stay hydrated. In addition to water, drinking warm liquids such as tea or soup can also help drain mucus.
Unfortunately, there’s no proven medication to cure the common cold—despite the fact that the pharmacy’s cold remedies aisle is 20 feet long. “If we had already found that definitive medication, the aisle would only be one foot long. There’d be one medication,” says Dr. Bohnsack. In his experience, however, sometimes nasal decongestant or antihistamine medicines seem to help a runny nose and sneezing. Some pain relievers can help ease pain associated with a headache or sore throat and some cough suppressant medications can help control short term coughing that comes with the common cold.
At the end of the day, he suggests you do whatever works for you. As a precaution, only take medications as directed and carefully read the labels. Speak with your doctor if you have any concerns about specific medications.