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25 Ways to Beat a Cold

We can clone mammals, send a spacecraft to Mars, and invent fat-free cheesecake, but we still can’t cure the common cold. We can, however, make it a bit easier on ourselves by adopting these 25 cold-coping strategies.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Suck on a Zinc Lozenge

Take a lozenge containing 6 to 13 milligrams of zinc gluconate every two waking hours (don’t chew or swallow whole). Don’t suck on more than 10 in one 24-hour period or you may get nauseated.

Why it works:

Zinc is an important mineral for the immune system. Numerous studies find that sucking on zinc lozenges at the first symptoms of a cold can reduce their severity and help you feel better faster.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Andrographis Paniculata

Give this herb a try, unless you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Good brands include TriMune, made by Nature Made (it also contains vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea), and Kold Kare. Follow the dosage instructions on the label.

Why it works: The herb andrographis has been used for centuries to treat colds and fevers. There’s quite a bit of research on it, with several studies finding that it not only reduces the duration of cold symptoms but also reduces the number of colds if taken on a regular basis. Although echinacea is more popular, we think andrographis works better. It has many different effects on the body, but the one that’s probably most related to its effects on colds is its ability to reduce inflammation, the culprit behind most cold symptoms. The herb also stimulates the immune system and can help the body produce certain antibodies, chemicals generated in reaction to foreign invaders like cold viruses.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Soup

Prepare (or have someone else prepare) a pot of chicken soup and eat a steaming bowlful. Load it up with garlic, and add a teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes for added effect.

Why it works: Grandma recommended chicken soup for a cold, and so do we. It isn’t just unfounded folk medicine. Scientists have actually studied chicken soup and, at least in the lab, it proved to have real healing effects. The soup inhibited the movement of white blood cells called neutrophils. These cells are designed to gobble up bacteria and other microorganisms; they are released in huge numbers when you have a cold. Neutrophils rushing to infected sites are a major cause of the inflammation and other symptoms associated with a cold. Chicken soup has other benefits too. The steam helps open up clogged nasal passages, the broth provides liquid for hydration, the spiciness of the hot pepper opens your sinuses and gets mucus flowing, and the garlic has immune-boosting benefits. Plus, not to be minimized, you can’t eat steaming hot chicken soup while on the go-you have to take time out. Getting rest is a critical “ingredient” in your recovery.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Pseudoephedrine

If you’re very congested, take two 30-milligram pseudoephedrine tablets every four to six hours, or 120 milligrams in a 12-hour formulation. Try to avoid taking it near bedtime, as it may interfere with your sleep.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Antihistamines

If you’re sneezing a lot, take an antihistamine such as Claritin according to package directions. 

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Salt Water

If your throat is sore, gargle with warm salt water.

Why it works: Gargling with salt water soothes a sore throat in two ways: The warmth increases blood flow to the throat, which helps fight the infection, and the salt clears away dead white blood cells and other “garbage,” making room for healthy new tissue. You can boost your gargle with a squeeze of lemon; the acidity helps kill off bacteria and viruses.

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Photo: Thinkstock

25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Try Echinacea

This popular herb is another option for fighting colds. We think it’s definitely second to andrographis, but it’s easier to find. Not all echinacea is created equal, however. The most effective form is a tincture, or water alcohol extract, of Echinacea purpurea and/or Echinacea angustifolia. Mix 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the tincture in 1 to 2 ounces of hot water and drink every four to six hours.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Suck on Slippery Elm

If you’re coughing, look for an herbal cough formula, lozenge, or tea that contains slippery elm, a natural throat-coating mucilage. A good tea that’s been clinically tested is called Throat Coat, which contains slippery elm, licorice root, and other herbs. Marshmallow root (not to be confused with the marshmallows you eat) is another herb that coats a sore throat.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Drink Honey and Lemon

Drinking hot water with honey and lemon is a simple yet effective way to soothe a sore throat. The honey coats the throat, while the lemon acts as an astringent, shrinking swollen throat tissue. Honey is also a humectant (a substance that draws moisture) and is naturally antiseptic.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Try Fenugreek Caps

An herb used to make curry, fenugreek can also thin mucus and relieve a cough. Take two 300- to 400-milligram capsules three or four times a day. It will make your urine smell like barbecue sauce, but don’t worry; it’s not harmful.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Oral Decongestants

If your nose is so stuffy that you have trouble breathing at night or you’re snoring, use a decongestant like Sudafed (or generic pseudoephedrine tablets). The downside to these drugs is that they dry you out and can keep you up at night, so try other remedies first.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Nasal Sprays

If you need something at night, try a nasal spray decongestant. One or two squirts in each nostril will relieve congestion for up to 12 hours. Nasal sprays won’t keep you awake, but don’t use them for more than three days. If overused, they can have a “rebound” effect, resulting in increased swelling when you stop using them.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Cough Suppressants

If your cough is really driving you crazy and herbal cough syrups and other remedies don’t do the trick, try a cough syrup containing the cough suppressant dextromethorphan. For nighttime coughs, choose a product like Delsym, a slow-release version that lasts for 12 hours. Avoid products with extra ingredients like decongestants or aspirin if you don’t need them.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Numb the Pain

To numb the pain of a sore throat, look for a lozenge that contains benzocaine, an anesthetic.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Steam Inhalation

Use a cool-mist humidifier with mentholated essential oils such as pine, eucalyptus, or peppermint added to unclog stuffy sinuses without medication.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Chest Rub

Make a chest rub by mixing 30 drops of massage or carrier oil like almond, jojoba or avocado (neutral oils well absorbed by the skin) with 5 to 10 drops of eucalyptus or wintergreen essential oil. After rubbing the mixture onto your chest, apply a hot-water bottle to help your skin better absorb it, or cover your chest with a cotton towel or piece of flannel, then put a heating pad on top. Snuggle under the blankets. A simpler option is to rub some Vicks VapoRub or other chest rub containing eucalyptus and/or menthol on your chest, then cover with a warm flannel shirt (try tossing it into the dryer for five minutes). Throw a heating pad on top for extra effect.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Drink Plenty of Liquids

When you’re sick, your metabolism speeds up and you burn more calories and use more water. Add to that fact your increased mouth breathing and possibly a fever, and you can see why you need to drink more liquids. Hot liquids provide a triple whammy: They replenish fluids, soothe the throat, and prevent viruses in the throat from replicating.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Tune Up Your Immune System

By strengthening your immune system you can significantly cut down on the number of colds you suffer every year, and maybe even get through the year cold-free.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Wash Your Hands

It may seem obvious, but wash your hands at least once every two hours, and generally avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Use the Sauna

Head for the health club and sit in the sauna for 15 minutes twice a week. Studies find that regular sauna use can reduce the incidence of colds.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Get Some Sleep

Hit the sack early. When cold season is upon you, it’s time to get an extra hour of sleep a night to support your immune system.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Clean

Clean phones and doorknobs every day with an antiseptic preparation like Lysol or rubbing alcohol. You can also try a dilute solution of antiseptic essential oils such as eucalyptus, thyme, and tea tree. Mix 10 drops of each in 3 ounces of an equal mix of rubbing alcohol and water.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Take Andrographis or Esberitox

Andrographis is one of the few herbal therapies with sound research suggesting it prevents as well as treats colds. Take 2 pills three times a day for 10 days with a standardized preparation of 30 milligrams of andrographolides per tablet. Another one to try, either instead of or in addition to andrographis, is the German herbal preparation Esberitox. Available in most health food stores, it contains two types of echinacea as well as white cedar and wild indigo extracts. Numerous studies testing its use in patients with weak immune systems as well as in healthy patients find it increases immune response. Take 3 pills, three times a day.

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Cut Back on Alcohol

Kick a cold by cutting back on alcohol, which suppresses the immune system. 

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25 Ways to Beat a Cold: Keep Your Home Moist

Keep a humidifier running in your home to keep your mucous membranes moist so they’re better able to ward off viruses.

For more advice on how to get through cold and flu season, click here!