You’ve been taking your vitamins, avoiding your sniffly friends, and obsessively washing your hands. But despite your best efforts, you can tell you’re coming down with a cold. Luckily, you can take a few simple steps to nip it in the bud — or at least speed up your recovery so it doesn’t ruin your whole week. Here’s how to get rid of a cold — according to someone in the know: Dr. Scott Helmers, an urgent care physician for the Mayo Clinic Health System.
Your mom was right: You need your fluids. Hydration helps your body fire on all cylinders, but it’s especially important when you’re battling a cold. A cup of warm water or hot tea can soothe a scratchy throat, and the fluids will thin out your mucus, so you won’t feel as stuffy. Water, juice, or broth will do the trick, and you don’t need to overthink the number of ounces. “It’s really just a matter of satisfying your thirst — maybe have an extra glass of fluid every couple of hours,” says Dr. Helmers.
2. Eat for wellness.
Vitamins and minerals are beneficial to your overall health, but it’s debatable whether any particular one will ward off a cold or reduce its duration. Your best bet is to focus on eating healthy foods and eliminating anything that might make you feel even more sluggish, like alcohol or greasy foods. “It’s not that those would impair your ability to fight it off; it would just be compounding the symptoms,” Dr. Helmers says. In other words, if your head’s already pounding from sinus pressure, a night of Fireball shots probably won’t improve things.
3. Adjust your workout accordingly.
If you feel like you have enough energy to go for a jog or do some light lifting, go for it. Just listen to your body and don’t work out to the point of exhaustion. (And for the love of Typhoid Mary, wipe down your equipment after you use it.) “Pay attention to what your body is telling you,” Dr. Helmers says. “Moderate activity may help with muscle soreness that might accompany an upper respiratory infection. On the other hand, if you’re a runner or biker, pay attention to the ambient conditions — if it’s really cold, it may end up making you feel worse. There’s no great advantage in tiring yourself out.” And if you have a fever, discomfort in your chest, or difficulty breathing, skip it.
4. Sleep it off.
A good night of shut-eye can help shut down a cold before it really ruins your plans. “Rest according to what your body is saying it needs, and be sure to hydrate when you wake up,” Dr. Helmers says.
5. Reach for the right remedies.
Stocking up on cold meds could leave you with a case of sticker shock to go along with your stuffy nose — and it probably won’t make you feel better any sooner. “Scientifically, we probably can’t prove that antihistamines, decongestants, and [over-the-counter] cough medicine shorten the illness,” Dr. Helmers says. Still, there are a few simple ways to soothe your symptoms (and you probably already have what you need at home!).
- Salt water. Dissolve ½ tsp. of salt in a cup of warm water, then gargle and rinse to ease irritation in your throat.
- Honey. If you can’t stop coughing, try 2 tsp. of honey. A pediatric study in 2012 found honey to be an effective cough suppressant.
- Pain relievers. Plain old acetaminophen or ibuprofen can combat inflammation and achy muscles.
If you stay healthy, manage your symptoms, and rest when you need it, you may be able to reduce the amount of time you’re under the weather. But how do you know when it’s time to give up and go to the doctor? “Most colds run their course in 3–5 days,” Dr. Helmers says. “If it’s going much beyond that — or if you have a fever, chest congestion, intensely sore throat, or facial pain — then it’s appropriate to be examined.”