Frustrating as it may be, there is still no cure for the common cold.
Each year in the UK, adults have between two and four colds a year. With each cold lasting up to two weeks, that’s potentially a lot of time spent under the duvet with a box of tissues.
Of course, most of us don’t have the time to spend recovering from a cold at leisure. Our tips won’t make your cold disappear – only time will do that. But following them will mean you can shorten its duration and make your recovery more bearable.
1. Get more fluids
If you only do one thing to help get over your cold faster, then make sure it’s this. Having a cold makes you dehydrated – as your body loses water from an increase in mucus production, a runny nose, sneezing and sweating. Water helps regulate our body temperature and helps us get rid of waste – making hydration an absolute must when we’re unwell.
According to the NHS, we should get about 1.2 litres of fluid daily1. You don’t need to down glasses of plain, cold water to up your fluid intake. While this would be good news for your body, sometimes we crave something a little more comforting when we’re feeling lousy. Sipping warm water, tea with honey, herbal tea or clear vegetable broth (check it’s low in salt) are great ways to get your fluids and soothe a sore throat.
You might only fancy dry toast – but try to include some water-rich foods in your diet during your recovery. Fruits such as raspberries, apples and oranges will give you a dose of vitamins along with those all-important fluids.
2. Hydrate your environment
During the colder months, your office, car and home are all likely to have their heating cranked up, leaving you toasty-warm but the air around you parched. This dry air saps moisture from your body’s mucosal surfaces such as your nose, mouth and throat, which need to be kept moist in order to act as barriers to bacteria and illness-causing microbes.
Keeping a humidifier in the house or office during winter helps replace some of the moisture lost from over-zealous central heating. Not only might this help prevent your next cold, having more moisture in the air will alleviate some of the more uncomfortable symptoms of a cold such as a scratchy throat and dry eyes.
If you’re prone to colds, then investing in a home humidifier is a good idea. Some act as essential oil diffusers too – in which case putting a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus oil could help open up your stuffy airways.
Make sure to clean and dry humidifiers thoroughly at least weekly, or they will become a breeding ground for nasty bacteria.
3. Consume vitamin C
It’s not a myth – vitamin C really can help you kick a cold faster. While studies have varied on vitamin C’s efficacy in this area, it has been shown in some studies that taking vitamin C can knock a day off your recovery time during the average length cold 2.
However – going overboard on vitamin C can’t save you from a cold once you’ve got one. The most sensible approach is to get enough vitamin C all year round as a preventative measure, as it helps contribute to the normal function of the immune system immunity.
4. Take Echinacea
This wild plant is something of a secret weapon used to relieve the symptoms of colds and flu– based on traditional use only. The potent herb echinacea purpurea is extracted from the root of the Echinacea plant
In recent years, several studies have shown that taking Echinacea throughout cold and flu season can have real benefits for both helping to prevent and shorten the duration of colds3. Researchers at the University of Connecticut conducted a review of existing clinical trials and studies on echinacea and found that taking it before a cold began reduced the number of colds by 20%. Taking it just after a cold began or during a cold, people were ill for 1.4 days fewer on average than those who didn’t take echinacea4.
Echinacea can be taken in the form of tablets, drops, tea or ointment.
No matter how much you’ve got going on, you’re going to have to take a step back from some of your regular activities. Some things – like taking care of children – must continue, but if your nose is streaming and your head feels like it weighs a ton, let the spring clean or aerobics class wait.
If your job allows you to work from home, that would be preferable. Your colleagues will thank you for not infecting them and their families. If you are out and about while suffering from a cold, be sure to wash your hands frequently, sneeze into a tissue and dispose of used tissues immediately in the bin.
If you need a sick day, take it. Don’t neglect your mental health while you’re fighting a cold. Simple things like a warm bath, inhaling your favourite essential oils and fresh sheets on your bed can make a big difference to how you feel.
Last updated: 29 April 2020
1 NHS Choices. Water, drinks and your health. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/water-drinks.aspx