stop that snot

The complete guide to getting over a cold as quickly as possible

May 13, 2014
May 13, 2014

When you’re suffering from a minor bug, you might feel rather inundated with conflicting advice. Do you feed it or starve it? Sleep all day or run until you break a fever-killing sweat? We’ve cut through the nonsense and found some evidence-based tips for getting rid of the sniffles. Whether it’s the height of flu season or you’re stuck with a lingering summer cold, here are our tips for getting healthy faster:

Stay home and sleep

Yes, it’s tempting to go into the office. And if all you feel is a tickle in your throat, you might as well. But if you’ve got a fever, colored mucus, or other symptoms that suggest your “allergies” might be a long-lasting cold, get back to bed.

Even if you don’t care about infecting your coworkers, it’s important to take some time off. Working remotely might not cut it: You need rest to fight a cold. Depriving yourself of sleep can actually handicap your immune system. However, a little work is fine in moderation. “Telecommuting is a really good option if you have something to do but can’t work a whole day, or know you’re just not going to be productive,” Jennifer Collins, an assistant professor of immunology at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, told The Huffington Post. “You can work a little, nap, then wake up and do a little more work.”

Meditate

Generally speaking, colds are just going to run their course. There’s nothing you can do to make a cold last half as long, or to know you’ll be free of the virus causing it by a certain time. But you can certainly make yourself feel better. And it might be as simple as putting yourself in a better state of mind.

One study led by University of Wisconsin School of Medicine fellow Chidi Obasi found that meditation can make colds seem shorter and less severe. While the yogis weren’t magically cured, those who meditated were better at managing symptoms than those who exercised instead of meditating, or who did neither. New to the practice? Find some pointers here.

Raid your spice cabinet

Gargle, gargle, and gargle some more. The Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies suggests frequent gargling with warm salt water during illness. The salt water draws out fluid from your inflamed throat tissue, so swelling goes down. The act of gargling can also loosen mucus, which holds on to allergens, bacteria, and fungi that keep you feeling ill. In fact, gargling when you’re healthy could prevent infection in the first place.

While it hasn’t been investigated as a cold remedy, turmeric is also known for its stellar anti-inflammatory properties. Give golden milk a try (that’s turmeric in warm milk, with honey) or, if you’re all mucus-y, skip the milk (which doesn’t increase mucus, but might make it feel thicker) and try a concoction of turmeric, water, lemon, and honey.

Pour some water up your nose

Just as gargling with salt water can help reduce inflammation in the throat, pouring it through your nasal cavities can reduce swelling and congestion in your nose and sinuses. Studies show (paywall) the treatment to have a small but positive effect on cold symptoms. If a simple neti pot doesn’t appeal, you can even invest in an $80 “Sinus Irrigation System.” Just be sure to use filtered water: Several deaths have been linked to the use of contaminated water for sinus rinsing. Your cold might go away, but a brain-eating amoeba isn’t a great substitution.

Load your soup with garlic

Like a lot of home remedies, the jury is still out on garlic as a cold cure. One study (paywall) led by University of Florida nutritional scientist Meri Nantz, found indications that garlic extract can limit the length and severity of a cold, but for now this is the only good evidence.

But you know what’s definitely good for a cold? Chicken soup. And you know what’s really delicious in chicken soup? A few giant cloves of garlic. Can’t hurt.

Drink a lot of water, not a lot of booze

There’s some evidence that drinking wine habitually might boost your immune system, but once you’re sick it’s time to lay off the sauce. Alcohol won’t kill the virus or bacteria you’re infected with, but it will dehydrate you, and might weaken your immune system (paywall). For the duration of your illness, switch from wine to water. While there’s no evidence directly relating increased fluid intake to cold-battling ability, conventional wisdom holds that more water means thinner mucus, which will at least have you breathing easier. And you certainly don’t want to end up dehydrated, especially when your body is working hard to fight off infection.

Know when to see your doctor

If your “cold” has lasted for weeks and isn’t more severe than some sniffles and throat tickles, you’re probably suffering from seasonal allergies. But if you find yourself with a high or persistent fever, pained breathing, or any of these other symptoms, you need to get checked out by a physician. It’s possible your “cold” was always something more serious—or that your weakened immune system left your body prey to a secondary infection like pneumonia.

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