When you've got a cold, you pretty much know one thing: you can't cure it--you just have to wait it out. But you also kind of know about a few different ways to make you feel better while you're waiting it out, and some remedies can actually make your cold shorter. What works and what's just superstition?
- Drink your liquids. You've probably heard that liquids will "flush" a cold from your system. The terminology isn't really right here - you're probably not going to just wash yourself clean. However, since colds often result in dehydration, liquids are still a great idea, and they can even help to loosen your congestion. It's best to stick to juice, water, broth or lemon water (with or without honey, but warm will be soothing) to really help yourself the most. Avoid coffee, alcohol and caffeinated soda; while on the "flushing" theory diuretics like caffeine might seem like a good idea, they'll mostly just make you dehydrated and won't really help anything.
- Chicken soup. Yes, this works. People have been using it for generations, but until recently it hadn't been backed up with science. Now we know that chicken soup acts as both an anti-inflammatory and as a kind of expectorant (it speeds up the mucus and relieves congestion). Additionally, you don't have to make your chicken soup from scratch. Although homemade soup may be a little better for you, most researchers find that they work equally well.
- Salt gargles and saline spray. Gargling a little salt water (don't swallow) can help relieve an irritated throat, while saline nasal sprays can help to cut down on congestion without creating the rebound effects that many decongesting sprays create.
- Humidity. Humidifiers can help with colds, but you should be careful to make sure they don't also create mold (which can trigger allergies at less dry times of the year). Adding some moisture will usually help to clear out stuffy noses and scratchy throats.
- OTC Cold Medications. Cold medicines offer temporary cold relief (although they shouldn't be used for anyone under 2 years) but they won't necessarily shorten the cold and increase your health. It's a great way to temporarily relieve your symptoms during the first few days of your cold when they symptoms are severe, but don't continue taking them after four or five days or they can actually make your symptoms worse.
- Antibiotics, Antihistamines and Cough Medicine. For the most part, these aren't good remedies for your common cold. Antibiotics won't do anything for a virus, but taking them when you have a virus will probably make them less effective for you when you have a bacterial infection. Antihistamines should be reserved for allergies - even if they do relieve some sneezing and congestion, they aren't going to be the safest or most effective way to take care of your cold. Cough medicine can be effective, but usually the active ingredients in OTC medicines are only minimally effective, and they shouldn't be used for children - perhaps even children younger than 14.