Get well much quicker—even if you have allergies, too.
Whew! Now that winter is ending you can say good-bye to cold season, right? Not so fast. It’s true that winter is peak time for the common cold, but springtime runs a close second. In fact, a spring cold can be even worse due to the double-whammy of springtime allergies.
No matter what season it is, minimizing the time you’re sick with a cold helps reduce your risk for complications, such as sinusitis, bronchitis and even pneumonia. Here’s what you can do to recover from a cold much faster than usual—and additional steps to take if you also suffer from springtime allergies.
QUICK CURES FOR A COLD
• Don’t blow too hard. Giving your nose a vigorous blow seems like a logical response to a head full of congestion. But it can actually increase the time that you’re sick.
Reason: Gale-force nose-blowing forces mucus backward into nasal passages and can block drainage from these passages. An infection that was originally restricted to the nose can spread up into the sinuses or the middle ear.
How can you tell if you’re blowing too hard? If you hear a crackling sound or if you notice that congestion-related pressure in your head or face is more intense than it was before blowing, then you’ve blown your nose too forcefully.
My advice: Before blowing your nose, spritz some saline spray into each nostril. Wait a few moments while it softens the mucus. Then give a slow, gentle blow—one nostril at a time.
• Try zinc lozenges—fast. There is strong research showing that people who use zinc lozenges can shave days off the time that they’re sick, and their symptoms will be less intense.
Scientific evidence: Researchers at Wayne State University identified 50 adults who had developed cold symptoms. Within 24 hours, half were asked to take a zinc lozenge every two to three waking hours…the others were given look-alike lozenges that didn’t contain zinc.
The results, which were published in Annals of Internal Medicine, were impressive. Cold symptoms lasted about eight days in the placebo group versus 4.5 days in those taking zinc. Lab tests showed that levels of nasal cytokines (immune proteins that exacerbate cold symptoms) were lower in the zinc group.
My advice: Take either zinc acetate or zinc gluconate at the first signs of a cold. The lozenges work best when taken within 24 to 48 hours after a cold starts. Take two or three lozenges a day for the first few days of a cold. Look for a product that contains about 10 mg to 15 mg of zinc. Getting too much zinc can lead to stomach upset and possibly a loss of taste and smell, which has been reported to be permanent in some people. Also, be sure to let the lozenge dissolve in your mouth (no crunching!). It will immediately coat the back of your throat and ease throat pain, making it easier for you to swallow.
• Do a saltwater gargle. This old-fashioned remedy really does reduce sore throat pain almost instantly. That’s because the salt acts like an astringent—it pulls water from swollen tissues, reduces congestion and relieves nerve pressure that causes soreness. You can do a saltwater gargle in addition to using zinc lozenges.
Bonus: Gargling with saltwater may even prevent colds. The salt solution helps to break up thick mucus, allowing germs to flow more easily from nasal passages.
My advice: When your throat is sore, mix one-half teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water. Gargle for a few seconds, then spit it out. Do this in the morning and at bedtime. Any kind of salt will work just fine.
• Try honey, tea and schnapps. This traditional home remedy tastes good—and it really helps. Here’s why: The honey quickly coats and soothes the throat. Both green and black teas contain tannins, astringents that reduce swelling.
To make: Add a teaspoon of honey and a tablespoon of schnapps (cognac or brandy also work well) to a cup of tea. The alcohol is relaxing and helps you sleep, so you may want to drink it before bedtime. (During the day, use zinc lozenges and the saltwater gargle as needed.)
• Take vitamin C. Scientists have debated this vitamin’s cold-related benefits for years—and the research is still conflicting. Some of the better studies have shown that vitamin C doesn’t prevent colds, but it may reduce how long they last.
According to some estimates, taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C a day can reduce the average duration of colds in adults by about 8%.
My advice: Take 250 mg to 500 mg a day. Larger doses aren’t likely to add much cold-fighting benefit but can cause stomach irritation. Start taking it as soon as you notice symptoms—and continue taking it for seven days, the length of the average cold.
WHEN YOU’VE GOT ALLERGIES, TOO
If you’ve got springtime allergies, a cold can make you that much more miserable. In addition to avoiding allergens, try the following to minimize your suffering…
• Use antihistamines—not decongestants. Cold and/or allergy sufferers who are stopped up or have runny noses often reach for a decongestant tablet or liquid (such as Sudafed)—or, for faster relief, a decongestant spray (such as Afrin).
Decongestants do ease stuffiness by constricting blood vessels in the mucous membranes, but I don’t recommend them. That’s because the active ingredients in these medications can increase blood pressure—a potentially dangerous side effect, particularly for older adults. Decongestants also become less effective over time and can cause rebound congestion, an increase in stuffiness when you stop using them.
My advice: If you’ve got a cold and/or allergy, consider trying an over-the-counter antihistamine. These drugs block the action of histamine, a body chemical that causes congestion and runny noses in cold and allergy sufferers.
All antihistamines may cause some drowsiness, but short-acting ones, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), usually are worse than longer-acting drugs, such as loratadine (Claritin) or fexofenadine (Allegra).
If your symptoms haven’t improved within 24 hours, switch to a different antihistamine. Everyone responds differently to these drugs…if one isn’t effective, another one probably will be. Follow label directions, and take only while you’re experiencing severe symptoms.