A cold can cause a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, an itchy or sore throat, and nasal congestion, along with a slight fever, headache, mild body aches, and fatigue. Research studies abound as to the efficacy of many different types of cold remedies, but surprisingly little has been concluded. While there is no proven cure for the common cold, there are many different remedies that will help alleviate its symptoms.
Chicken soup is one of the most universal cold remedies, and it often works. By speeding up the movement of mucous through the nasal passages, it can help to decrease congestion. Also, anything that limits the time the virus spends in contact with mucous membranes may help reduce symptoms and duration. This includes nasal rinsing, the use of saline nasal sprays, and frequent nose blowing.
Humidity is a great cold remedy. The cold virus thrives in dry air, which is why wintertime is cold season. Nasal congestion may be broken up by inhaling the vapors from a bowl of hot water or a hot shower. These have the added benefit of helping relieve a drippy nose. To relieve congestion at night, a humidifier in the bedroom can help, as can sleeping with an extra pillow under the head.
Sinus pressure, pain, and congestion can be lessened with hot packs placed on the sinuses. Over-the-counter cold medicines containing decongestants can also be used, although these do have side effects that should be weighed. The ingredients label of all medications should be read carefully so as to avoid overdosing, since many commonly contain a pain reliever. Raw, red noses can be relieved with mentholated rub applied under and around the nostrils. This will also help open up breathing passages.
Sore throats can be soothed by gargling with a salt water solution, while throat tickles call for a thick gargle made with honey, or an astringent gargle, such as those made with tea containing tannin. Drinking fluids will also keep the throat moist and soothe irritation, as well as help to break up congestion and prevent dehydration. Caffeinated beverages should be avoided, as they worsen dehydration.
Honey may aid sleep and calm nighttime coughs, especially in children, although those under the age of one should never be given honey. As is the case with most illnesses, the body needs time to allow the immune system to fight the germs. Resting and staying warm help the body focus its energy on getting well.
While the above cold remedies have been shown to help alleviate symptoms, there are many that have either not been researched, or whose studies have ended in inconclusive or conflicting results. These include such popular supplements as echinacea, goldenseal, vitamin C, and garlic. Zinc also belongs in this group, and users should be aware that zinc nasal spray has been linked in some cases to the loss of the sense of smell. Astragalus root has long been used in Chinese medicine to boost immunity and prevent colds, but it is not recommended once a cold has already started. As with all herbal supplements, a doctor should be consulted before they are used, as many of them conflict with or interfere with the efficacy of many commonly prescribed medications.
There are some cold remedies that are proven to have no effect. Antibiotics treat infections caused by bacteria; the common cold is caused by a virus, on which antibiotics have no effect. Antihistamines, similarly, are not designed to treat a cold. While some of the cold symptoms may be alleviated, the side effects generally outweigh the benefits, and there are many more effective remedies.
Experts are gradually moving away from recommending the use of over-the-counter cough medications, especially in children. Most simply do not contain enough of the ingredient that relieves coughing to be very effective, and that ingredient that may be harmful to children.