Even though most people will deal with aches and pains, stuffy noses, and sore throats a couple of times during the colder months, there still isn’t a cure for the common cold.

Why? More than 200 viruses are responsible for all the colds Australians experience each year, hindering most scientists’ ability to concoct a magic solution that will work against them all. It’s clear that antibiotics-which are highly effective at knocking out bacterial infections-are useless against colds, which are caused by viruses. So most people try to ride it out and hope the sniffles will disappear in a week or so.

It’s true: sometimes you just have to let a cold run its course-but there’s much more you can do to ease your way through the symptoms more comfortably and quickly, doctors say. Ready to get out of bed? Here are 26 ways to get rid of a cold fast.

See if vitamin C works for you

“Vitamin C works in the body as a scavenger, picking up all sorts of trash-including virus trash,” according to self-care expert Dr Keith Sehnert. Vitamin C may also cut back on coughing, sneezing, and other symptoms, although scientific studies produce mixed results when the vitamin is put to the test. One review of research concluded that vitamin C doesn’t really prevent colds, but it did reduce the number of days people experienced cold symptoms by 8 to 9 percent.

If you’re going to take vitamin C, experts recommend that you take 100 to 500 milligrams a day. To help maintain levels of vitamin C throughout the day, take half of the recommended dose in the morning and half at night. 

Zap it with zinc

Studies show that people who sucked on zinc lozenges that contained at least 13.3 milligrams of zinc experienced a significant reduction in the duration of your cold symptoms compared to those who popped a placebo.

This includes things like a sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches, says integrative medicine expert Dr Elson Haas. “It doesn’t work for everyone, but when it works, it works,” he says.

While zinc has an unpleasant taste, there are many brands of zinc lozenges available in a variety of flavours. Just remember to check the label, as the amount of zinc varies from brand to brand. Don’t overdo it, either. Taking more than 40 milligrams of zinc a day can cause nausea, dizziness, or vomiting. High doses over an extended period can also hinder your ability to absorb copper, another vital mineral.

Don’t take vitamin C and zinc at the same time. The two bind together, making zinc less effective. Take the vitamin first or wait half an hour after your zinc lozenge has disappeared to take it.

Give grapefruit a go

In the early stages of a cold, try this recipe from integrative health expert Dr Brian Berman: Place a whole unpeeled grapefruit, sectioned into four pieces, in a pot and cover with water; heat to just under a boil. Stir and add a tablespoon of honey, then drink the liquid as you would a tea.

“The simmering releases immune boosters from the grapefruit into the water-vitamin C and flavonoids hidden between the rind and the fruit,” he says. “The concoction packs more punch than store-bought grapefruit juice, plus the warmth eases a sore throat.”

To beef up your body’s healing response, Dr Berman swears by liquid olive leaf extract, available online and at health food stores. Studies suggest that its antiviral qualities can help treat colds. “You end up getting rid of mucus sooner, and it helps your immune system fight back as well.”

Eat breakfast

Omelette with champignon, onion and ham on plate

Any well-rounded breakfast may go a long way in helping to keep colds at bay, according to a study from the United Kingdom. Researchers there found that people who regularly eat breakfast report having the fewest number of colds and illnesses, perhaps because breakfast is simply a marker of a healthier lifestyle overall.

Not sure how to start your morning when you don't even want to get out of bed? Try scrambling up two eggs (for zinc) with 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (immunity-boosters) and a side of spicy salsa (to ease congestion).

Be positive

Smiling young woman wearing wooly hat outdoors

A positive attitude about your body’s ability to heal itself can actually mobilize immune-system forces, says Dr Martin Rossman, a pioneer in the field of guided imagery. He teaches this theory by getting his patients to practice imagery techniques to combat colds. It sounds a little hokey, but try it for yourself-it can’t hurt you. After bringing yourself into a deeply relaxed state, “imagine a white tornado decongesting your stuffed-up sinuses,” he suggests, “or an army of microscopic maids cleaning up germs with buckets of disinfectant.”

Take it easy

Woman reading in bed with dog

Extra rest enables you to put all your energy into getting well. It can also help you avoid complications like bronchitis and pneumonia, says pathologist Dr Samuel Caughron. Take a day or two off from work if you’re feeling really bad, he advises. At the very least, skip some of your everyday activities and reschedule your time.

“Trying to keep up with your regular routine can be draining, because when you’re not feeling well, your concentration is down, and you’ll probably need to double the amount of time it takes you to do things,” Dr Caughron says.

...and while you’re at it, be a homebody

When you’re sick, parties and other good times can wear you out physically, compromising your immune system and causing your cold to linger, says family medicine specialist Dr Timothy Van Ert. Stay home and snuggle up.

Layer up

Close up portrait of woman in wooly hat and scarf in winter

Bundle up against the cold, advises Dr Sehnert. This keeps your immune system focused on fighting your cold infection instead of displacing energy to protect you from the frosty temps.

Take a walk

Legs of woman walking downstairs

Mild exercise improves your circulation, helping your immune system circulate infection-fighting antibodies, says Dr Sehnert. Do gentle exercises indoors or take a brisk half-hour walk, he suggests. But refrain from strenuous exercise, he warns, which could wear you out.

Go ahead, go outside

Young woman and little girl playing with autumn leaves on a meadow

Despite its name, getting a cold has nothing to do with temperature. (It’s caused by a viral infection, period.) In fact, a classic 1968 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that colds were no more frequent or severe in people who were chilled than in those who weren’t chilled. So if you think getting some fresh air will lift your spirits and make hanging at home, willing your cold to go away a bit more bearable, we say go for it.

Feed your cold

Colourful root vegetables with oranges

The very fact that you have a cold may indicate that your diet is putting a strain on your immune system, says Dr Haas. Counteract the problem, he advises, by eating fewer fatty foods, meat, and milk products, and more fresh fruit and vegetables.

What you feed your immune system may also matter. A study conducted by nutritionist Dr Simin N. Meydanilooked into the effect of taking extra vitamin E (found in almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and wheat germ) for colds. Although popping a daily supplement of 200 IU of vitamin E didn’t significantly shorten the duration of colds in the study, the participants who took the supplement had significantly fewer colds than those who didn’t take vitamin E.

Load up on liquids

Cropped shot of young woman pouring water at kitchen table

Drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water, juice, tea, and other mostly clear liquids daily help replace important fluids lost during a cold and help flush out impurities that may be preying on your system. “Remember: Dilution is the solution to pollution,” says Dr Haas.

Use an antihistamine if you can’t stop sneezing

Take an antihistamine, which blocks your body’s release of histamine, a chemical that causes your watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. Look for products which are available over-the-counter, advises pharmacist Diane Casdorph.

Warning: Antihistamines frequently cause drowsiness, so save these for bedtime or for when you won’t be driving or doing anything that requires quick reactions. If drowsiness is a problem, make sure to go for a nondrowsy formula (just have it approved by your doc first), or talk to your doctor about options that are available by prescription.

Stop smoking

Smoking aggravates a throat that may already feel irritated from a cold, says Dr Caughron. It also interferes with the infection-fighting activity of cilia, the microscopic “fingers” that sweep bacteria out of your lungs and throat. So if you can't kick the habit for good (it’s never too late!), at least try to avoid it while you have a cold.

Unstuff your nose with a decongestant

First, check your medicine cabinet and make sure you aren’t taking an old product that contains phenylpropanolamine, which was voluntarily withdrawn by manufacturers when it was associated with an increased risk of stroke, especially in women.

Products currently on the market that do not contain phenylpropanolamine include Sudafed. Before taking a nonprescription decongestant, discuss it with your doctor or pharmacist. Nasal sprays and drops are also effective decongestants. You shouldn’t use them for longer than three days, says urologist Dr Kenneth Peters. Overuse can result in a rebound effect, meaning your nose becomes more congested than ever, requiring more medication.

Use petroleum jelly on a sore nose

Relieve a nose raw from blowing by using a cotton swab to dab on a lubricating layer of petroleum jelly around and slightly inside your nostrils, suggests Dr Peters.

Choose chicken soup

Chicken Noodle Soup

A longtime folk remedy is now a proven fact. A cup of hot chicken soup can help unclog your nasal passages. Researchers found that chicken soup increases the flow of nasal mucus. Nasal secretions serve as a first line of defense in removing germs from your system, the scientists say. It’s also known that garlic and onions have antiviral properties, and adding some spice in the form of cayenne or chile peppers can help unclog nasal passages, too.

Medicate at night

Don’t let your cold symptoms keep you from getting a healing night’s sleep. Numerous medications for colds are available without a prescription. Some treat specific symptoms. Others contain a combination of drugs-plus alcohol, in some cases-aimed at treating a wide range of symptoms.

These combination drugs, however, can have many uncomfortable side effects, such as nausea and drowsiness, says Dr Van Ert. “I recommend taking these at night since you won’t feel the side effects while you’re sleeping.“ If you need to be on medications during the day, he suggests using those that treat just the symptoms you’re experiencing. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully, he advises.

Ease aches with aspirin or acetaminophen

Both of these options can help ease pain, but don’t overdo it. The absolute maximum limit for acetaminophen is 4,000 milligrams each day (although you can start much lower, depending on the instructions of your medication). The same limit goes for aspirin. If you’re unclear about how much to take, consult with your pharmacist first.

When should you call your doctor about your cold?

If your cold is accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms, see your doctor. Your problem may be more serious than the common cold.

  • A fever that remains above 38°C for more than three days, or any fever above 39°C
  • Any hot, extreme pain, such as an earache, swollen tonsils, sinus pain, or aching lungs or chest
  • Excessive amounts of phlegm, or phlegm that is greenish or bloody
  • Extreme difficulty swallowing
  • Excessive loss of appetite
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

Additional reporting by Allison Young

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