Common Cold Center

How to treat a cold

Cold treatment
There is no cure for the common cold. No vaccine against colds exists because they can be caused by many types of viruses. All you can do to feel better is treat your symptoms while your body fights off the virus.  You can take some of the following precautions to prevent the spread of cold viruses:

Cold prevention tips
Washing your hands and staying away from people with colds will help you avoid colds.  Eating a healthy diet, exercising and getting enough sleep also play a major role in preventing colds because they help boost your immune system.  If you come down with a cold, make sure that you cover your mouth when you cough and wash your hands often to prevent giving your cold to others. Here is an extended list of helpful tips for how to prevent the spread of a cold virus:

  • Avoid contact - Limit exposure to infected people. Avoid close, prolonged contact with anyone who has a cold.  If you have a cold, avoid being close to other people.
  • Avoid sharing -  Don't share drinking glasses or utensils during a cold. Use your own glass or disposable cups when you or someone else is sick. Label the cup or glass to avoid cold transmission.
  • Cover your mouth - If you sneeze or cough, cover your nose or mouth, and sneeze or cough into your elbow rather than your hand. Always sneeze and cough into tissues and throw them away after use.
  • Disinfect surfaces at home - Rhinoviruses can live up to 3 hours on your skin or objects such as telephones and stair railings. Clean kitchen bathroom and handle surfaces with a virus-killing disinfectant to prevent spread of infection, especially when someone in your family has a common cold. Wash children's toys after play.
  • Healthy lifestyle - Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep and exercise for 20-30 minutes a day. Exercise can help the immune system fight off germs that cause colds.  And avoid stress.  Keeping stress low helps your immune system do its job.  Also avoid cigarette smoke, which can aggravate your symptoms.
  • Wash your hands - Hand washing with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to keep from getting colds or giving them to others. Wash your hands often and teach your children to do the same. When water isn't available use alcohol-based products made for disinfecting your hands. These gels kill most germs, and are safe for older children to use themselves. Also, keep your hands away from the eyes and nose as cold germs easily enter the body via these areas of the body.

Cold treatment tips
A cold usually lasts only a few days to a week. To feel better while you are sick, try a combination of the following recommendations. For relief, try to:

  • Drink plenty of fluids - Water, juice, herbal tea and warm soup can help replace fluids lost during mucus production or fever. Drinking warm lemon water with honey may help ease symptoms of a sore throat as well. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can cause dehydration. 
  • Eat chicken soup - Chicken soup acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the movement of neutrophils - immune system cells that help the body's response to inflammation. And it temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus through the nose, helping relieve congestion and limiting the time viruses are in contact with the nasal lining.
  • Gargle with warm salt water - Gargling with 1-2 teaspoons of salt dissolved in warm water several times a day can help significantly soothe a sore throat and relieve a cough.
  • Get plenty of rest - Relaxation allows the body's immune system to recuperate.  Stay home from work or school for a day or two to give you a chance to rest as well as to reduce the chances of infection transmission.
  • Use a humidifier - A cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer can moisten the air and help ease congestion and coughing. Keep your room warm, but not overheated. Clean the humidifier frequently to prevent the growth of bacteria and molds.
  • Take over-the-counter pain or cold medicines - Cough drops, throat sprays and saline nasal drops are they're effective, safe and nonirritating for most cold sufferers.


Many cold products are available without a prescription.  Although no over-the-counter medicine can cure a cold, medicine can help relieve some cold symptoms. The ingredients listed below are found in many cold/flu medicines. Read labels carefully. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Some common ingredients found in cold medications include:

  • Analgesics
  • Antihistamines
  • Antitussives
  • Expectorants
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDS)
  • Oral decongestants

Alternative treatments
Herbs, minerals and other products have been promoted as cold remedies. However, none of these claims are solidly supported by scientific studies.  Alternative therapies might not cure your cold (there are no current cures on the market), but they may help make you more comfortable by easing your symptoms. Alternative options include:

  • Echinacea
  • Eucalyptus
  • Garlic
  • Honey
  • Lemon
  • Menthol
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc

Colds are one of the most common illnesses in cold weather climates.  If you are sick, take steps to prevent the spread of a cold to others.  Get plenty of rest and take time for your body to get better.  Often a cold is a sign that the immune system is compromised and stressed.  So, treat yourself well during a cold episode. 

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