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Cold Remedies - What Works/ What Doesn't

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

Nothing, absolutely nothing, can cure a cold. But some remedies may help ease your symptoms. And some of those claims out there don't work at all. Here's a look at some common cold remedies to help you decide what works and what doesn't.

Cold remedies that work

Got a common cold? You can probably expect to be sick for up to 2 weeks.

Here are some remedies that may help you feel a little less miserable:

  • Stay extra hydrated. Drink plenty of water, juice, and clear broth. Try some warm lemon water with honey to loosen congestion. Avoid any kind of alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas and drinks, as these can dehydrate you more.

  • Get plenty of rest. Nothing helps your body heal like a little R&R.

  • For a sore throat. Soothe a sore throat with a saltwater gargle — 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water. This can help soothe scratchy throats. Ice chips, ice chips, sore throat sprays, lozenges or hard candy can be soothing too. Don't give lozenges, cough drops or hard candy to children younger than 6 years.

  • Stop stuffiness. Over-the-counter saline nasal drops and sprays really can help combat stuffy noses. For infants, experts recommend putting several saline drops into one nostril, then gently suctioning that nostril with a bulb syringe. Saline nasal sprays may be used in older children.

  • Sip on warm liquids. Try sipping on warm liquids, like chicken soup, hot tea or warm apple juice. Warm liquids ease congestion by increasing mucus flow too.

  • Combat Coughs with honey. Honey may help coughs in adults and children who are older than age 1. Try adding it to hot tea.

  • Add moisture to the air. A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier can add moisture to your home, and help loosen congestion. Change the water daily, and clean the unit according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medications. For adults and children age 5 and older, OTC decongestants, antihistamines and pain relievers might offer some temporary relief. Despite what you often see and hear, they won't prevent a cold or shorten its duration, and most have some side effects like drowsiness. Experts agree that these shouldn't be given to younger children. Overuse and misuse of these medications can cause serious damage. Talk with your child's doctor before giving any medications and be sure to take medications only as directed. Some cold remedies contain multiple ingredients, such as a decongestant plus a pain reliever, so read the labels of cold medications you take to make sure you're not taking too much of any medication.

Cold remedies that don't work

The list of ineffective cold remedies is long. Some of the more common ones that don't work include:

  • Antibiotics. Why doesn't your doctor prescribe antibiotics? Because antibiotics attack bacteria, but they're no help at all against cold viruses. Please don't use old antibiotics you may have on hand - you won't get well any faster, and inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to the serious and growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

  • Over-the-counter cold and cough medications in young children. OTC cold and cough medications may cause serious and even life-threatening side effects in young children. Please, give us a call before giving any medications to children under age 5.

Cold remedies with conflicting results

  • Vitamin C. Studies show that taking vitamin C won't usually help the average person prevent colds. But, some studies have shown that taking vitamin C BEFORE cold symptoms start may help shorten the length of time you suffer from symptoms. Vitamin C is more about prevention and boosting your immune system.

  • Echinacea. Studies are mixed when it comes to whether or not echinacea prevents or shortens colds. Some studies show no benefit. Others show some reduction in the severity and duration of cold symptoms when taken in the early stages of a cold. Echinacea seems to be most effective if you take it when you notice cold symptoms and continue it for seven to 10 days. It appears to be safe for healthy adults, but it can interact with many drugs, so please check with your doctor before taking echinacea or any other supplement.

  • Zinc. There is a lot of information about zinc supplements reducing the length of a cold. But research has turned up mixed results about zinc and colds. Some studies show that zinc lozenges or syrup reduce the length of a cold by about one day, especially when taken within 24 to 48 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold. Zinc however, also has potentially harmful side effects. Again, talk to your doctor before considering the use of zinc.

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