Combat the common cold

Sneezes are in the air. And the onslaught of germs will only get worse as cold viruses go from hand to hand during the holiday season. There’s no cure for the common cold, but there are plenty of ways to aid recovery. Here’s a guide to surviving the common cold.

Move over vitamin C

In helping fight off colds, vitamin D might be the new vitamin C. A 2009 study from the University of Colorado-Denver School of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Children’s Hospital Boston, found that people who have the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood also had significantly more bouts with colds and flu. For those with chronic respiratory disorders, such as asthma or emphysema, the risks were even higher. Scott Risley, a doctor with Risley Chiropractic, takes vitamin D during the winter months.

“It’s a really good immune booster. It’s like vitamin C’s big brother,” he said.

Typically, sunshine produces vitamin D in the body. In the winter, sunshine is lacking. Vitamin D can be found in milk and fish, such as herring or salmon, but is easier to take as a vitamin supplement.

A diet rich in vitamin C isn’t a bad idea either. The Mayo Clinic reports that while vitamin C won’t prevent the cold, it can help shorten the duration of the symptoms. Vitamin C can be found in a lot more places than orange juice. Peppers, green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, guava, cantaloupe and strawberries all have a lot of vitamin C.

Eat, sleep, drink well

Besides eating well, it’s important to get enough rest and exercise, even if it’s at a reduced level.

Just as the mind gets a little foggy with too little sleep and too much stress, Risley said the pathogen fighting cells don’t react as well in those conditions.

Another key to recovery is staying hydrated. The Mayo Clinic says you can’t flush out a cold, but drinking a lot of liquids help. Water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey loosen congestion and prevent dehydration, the Mayo Clinic claims. Staying away from alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas also helps.

“The folks who end up in the hospital are the ones who don’t keep up with it. Their fevers are high. They stay in bed, don’t eat or drink. And the next thing you know they are at the hospital on IV fluid,” said Karen Evans, a doctor at Mount Oread Family Practice.

Pamper the nose

Humidifiers can be a good first line of defense in fighting off the cold. The cold virus thrives in dry air, so using a humidifier helps moisten mucus membranes in the nose, Risley said. And that helps catch more bacteria and germs going in and out of your body. It also helps prevent a stuffy nose and scratchy throat.

Once a cold is in full force, the Mayo Clinic recommends using over-the-counter saline nasal drops and sprays, which make breathing easier and relieve congestion. Unlike nasal decongestants, saline drops and sprays won’t worsen the symptoms when you stop taking the medicine. For a scratchy throat, try gargling salt water.

Try what can’t hurt

Researchers continue to debate the effectiveness of age-old remedies such as echinacea, zinc or even chicken soup. Evans holds to the theory that if it makes you feel better, then do it.

“It’s not going to hurt anything,” she said.

And some research shows that these time-worn preventions come with scientific proof to back them up. The Mayo Clinic claims that the reason chicken soup tastes so good to sore throat sufferers is because it may have “anti-inflammatory and mucus-thinning effects.”

Zinc, the Mayo Clinic reports, has been shown through comprehensive analysis and clinical-trial data to be beneficial. Of course there are a few drawbacks: Zinc lozenges don’t taste that good and can cause nausea. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that zinc-based nasal sprays can take away a sense of smell.

As for echinacea, results have been mixed on whether the herbal supplement helps treat or prevent colds. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease reports that some researchers have found it might help in treating a cold if taken in the early stages; however other studies have found it has no effect.

Don’t turn to antibiotics

Antibiotics attack bacteria, but don’t kill viruses, which is the menace behind the common cold. So resist the urge to call your doctor or dig through your medicine cabinet to acquire antibiotics to battle a cold. The Mayo Clinic claims using antibiotics inappropriately can contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a serious concern in health care.

“I think we are sometimes too prone to want to medicate it as opposed to have the chance to fight it off,” Risley said and noted allowing your body to fight it off builds your immune system.

Evans suggests giving your body a week to fight off the virus before visiting the doctor.

“Most viruses are going to clear up and will be starting to improve within a week’s time. If not, it could be something else going on,” she said.

If the cold doesn’t get better after a week, Evans said it’s time to go to the doctor.

Keep hands, germs to yourself

These tips won’t do you much good when you’ve already landed a cold. But they will help you from spreading it. Washing your hands, coughing into your elbow and using antiseptic wipes to disinfect telephones, doorknobs and grocery carts are all good ideas. Also, when sick or when just trying to stay healthy, avoid large crowds. Just think of all those germs swarming around Black Friday sales.

By Christine Metz


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