How do you treat a cold?

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You know the drill:

Drink plenty of fluids and rest in bed, you've heard it a million times, but it does help. There is no cure for, or vaccine to prevent, a common cold, which is caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not help a cold since they are for only bacterial infections. Fluids are needed to help loosen secretions, support your immune and lymphatic systems, and to prevent dehydration. Rest gives your immune system energy resources to fight the invader and make you well. Eat a healthy diet for the same reasons. Supportive care with treatment of the individual symptoms is all that is currently available for treating the common cold with home remedies and over the counter medicines and preparations. You usually can not get rid of a cold fast, the viral infection must be fought off by your immune system, which takes time, typically around a week to ten days.

Treating individual symptoms:

You can make yourself less miserable while your body is fighting it by treating the symptoms that are making you feel so bad. Use over the counter treatments or home remedies for symptoms, such as: fever reducing medicine (not aspirin for anyone under 18, though, due to risk of Reye's Syndrome), cough medicine and expectorants (guaifenesin as a main ingredient will help loosen congestion), analgesics (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, etc.) for aches and pains, lozenges or sprays for sore throats, lip balm for dry lips, soothing eye drops for red itching eyes, saline nasal spray to cleanse your nasal passages and/or a Netti Pot for sinus discomfort and stuffiness, petroleum jelly or lotion for a red sore nose. Antihistamines can help the runny or stuffy nose as well as any watery eyes, clogged ears/Eustachian tubes, and sinus congestion.

Fever can be good:

Usually a cold does not cause a high fever like the flu does, but it does cause a low grade fever in most cases. This is part of the body's ammunition against pathogens, since many types have a narrow window of acceptable temperature range and raising your body temperature slightly can inactivate some virus particles. Unless you have a fever over 102, it is best to avoid fever reducer medicines if you can, so that this mechanism can work against the cold virus.

However, any amount of fever in infants should always be reported to their pediatrician to determine if fever reducing medicine is needed and what other tests and treatments the infant may need. Slight variations in body temperature make a much bigger difference in the small bodies of infants and they have an immature immune system that can not protect them like that of adults.

Sore nose, aches and pains:

Use facial tissues for your nose that have lotion in them if your nose gets sore and red, and/or apply petroleum jelly to keep the irritated area dry and protected. Soak in the tub or take showers to help achy muscles, clear off the toxins from your skin that are released in your sweat, help you relax and rest, and to provide soothing humidity to your body's mucous tissues and respiratory passages.

Healthy diet:

Eat a well balanced nourishing diet for your body to have energy and nutrients it needs for healing, including protein. Include as many vegetables and fresh fruit as possible. Eat lots of chicken soup, this traditional Old World/Jewish remedy has been scientifically tested and it does help people recover faster from colds. Home made chicken soup is best (because it contains some love), but you can get good chicken stock in special boxes in the soup aisle at the grocery that is very good. As a last resort, use canned chicken soups or broths (some are available in low sodium recipes). Do not use instant bouillon, it will not be as effective, and it contains way too much salt (an occasional cup, if you are allowed that amount of sodium in your diet will give some relief just from drinking something hot, but herbal teas will do the same thing and have no salt).

Herbs, etc:

Try mint or oregano tea or good quality pure oregano oil. Put a few drops of oregano oil in a capsule (fill remainder with olive oil) and swallow with juice or water. Shark oil capsules are also good. Basil leaves have been proved to have antioxidants that fight cold-like symptoms, too.

Drink warm liquids:

Sip warm liquids of any kind to add fluids, soothe throats, and moisturize dry and irritated mucous membranes. Here is one old Russian recipe for Lemon Drink for colds: Bring water to a near boil (or boil it and then let it sit for a few minutes to cool slightly). It is very important that it is not boiling when you put your lemon in, that makes the lemon less effective for some reason (some say that it kills the enzymes in the lemon, but that may or may not be the reason, just don't put the lemon in while the water is boiling). Juice a few fresh lemons and put the juice in the hot, but not boiling, water. Add some honey which will help soothe your throat and give you other healthy ingredients for your immune system and add good flavor. Do not use sugar, use the honey. This drink is very good, so enjoy it, but it is powerful and works like medicine to flush out the cold in a few days, if you drink it at least four times a day. It is a great source of Vitamin C. Often recipes suggest adding some lemon zest, too, to boost the flavor and enhance the efficacy.

Some people add an ounce of whiskey to the lemon drink. It is a major ingredient in most cough medicines (acts as a cough suppressant) and will help a cough and help you rest, just do not use more than an ounce at a time or it can add to dehydration and cause more harm than good. Or others will try the very generous application of an Apricot Brandy Hot Toddy which will also help them get plenty of bed rest.

Sore throat:

Gargle warm salt water for a sore throat. See also many other suggestions to help sore throats in the related question below.

Supplements, vitamin C and zinc:

Vitamin C Supplements may help, and studies have shown that Zinc lozenges can be effective if used early in the viral infection to prevent as many infected cells and give your immune system an advantage over the virus. Zinc supplements seem to be less effective than lozenges, the direct contact with the mucous tissue on and near the infected cells seems to be important to efficacy.

Prevent further spread of the virus:

Remember to avoid passing your cold on to others. Stay home, wash your hands, throw away tissues used for coughs and sneezes and keep your germs to yourself. See the related question below for how to protect others from catching your cold.

Positive thinking:

If you get cranky and have a bad attitude you are going to make yourself think it is really worse than it is and turn off folks who might otherwise want to do things to help you. A positive attitude helps our bodies heal and stay healthy. Try watching funny, happy and uplifting movies while you can't do anything else. Cuddle up with the stuff that makes you feel good, like a stuffed animal, warm PJs and blankets (warm them by putting in the clothes dryer for a few minutes before using them), create pleasant aromas, candle light, and soft music. Remind yourself how it could always be worse. A little "switch" in your brain might click, making it the best cold you've ever had and making you feel a little better.


There are some people who say the following works. It may be only placebo effect (which is better than no effect at all!), but you might try to see if this does anything for you: Cut a room temperature fresh onion in half and put it in a bowl near your bed while you sleep. Anecdotal reports say this can get rid of the cold over night. If it works for you, keep doing it, since it can't hurt. It could merely be that the tears that the onion may cause helps to wash away irritants from your eyes, clear the nasal passages, etc. from the inside out. Use of this at night may help along with eye wash/drops, nasal saline wash, nose drops, drinking lots of fluids, and showering or bathing for soothing humidity in the daytime.

Some people report they believe this works because, when you cut an onion, you break open onion cells and that allows the release of amino acid sulfoxides that form sulfenic acids. Enzymes that were kept separate inside the onion can mix with the sulfenic acids to produce propanethiol S-oxide. This is a sulfur compound and is what gets in your eyes to react with your tears to form sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid burns, stimulating your eyes to create tears in an attempt to wash away the irritating compounds.
More The viruses that cause the common cold mutate often and rapidly and spread easily. Too quickly for us to prepare a vaccine before they change again. There is a large pool of viruses that can cause the common cold and each of them is undergoing mutation at any given time.

This means that every cold that you get in your life time is different. They are each caused by a unique virus, and once you've had one variety you will never get that variety again. Although you can (and we all do) catch the next generation of mutations. Even though a cold is very common, it is certainly not simple. That is why scientists have not yet found a cure for the common cold.

However, they are currently working on a cure that is promising. They believe that cold viruses can be "attacked" from a different direction. The viral antigens can be neutralized as they currently are ~ by antibodies attaching to the antigen coat. A different approach has been conceived and is under trials. The new attack is a move from the coat to the stem of the virus, then it doesn't matter how much or how fast the coat changes during mutations.
 Humorous answerA remedy for the common cold suggested by Dr. Richard Gordon, from the "Atlantic Monthly":

At the first sign of a cold, go to bed with a bottle of whiskey and a hat. Place the hat on the left-hand bedpost. Take a drink of whiskey and move the hat to the right-hand bedpost. Take another drink and shift the hat back again. Continue this until you drink the whiskey but fail to move the hat.
By then, the cold is probably cured.
common cold is mainly due to viruses.
symptomatic treatment and take rest.
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