Colds are a fact of life every winter
but that doesn’t mean you can’t take
some precautions (and save some of
your sick days for spring fever). A cold
is a virus, so antibiotics can’t conquer
it—they only work against bacterial
infections—but you can shorten the
misery and avoid spreading it to those
around you. Here are some tips on how
to relieve the symptoms and germ-proof
your home, from so-called old wives’
tales to a few new surprises. Listen up,
and you’ll be ditching those tissues
sooner than you can say “spring.”
Hot tea & herbs
liquid can help
break up congestion,
but tea has extra benefits. It contains
compounds called theophyllines, which
open up airways and ease breathing.
So curl up with a mug of your favorite
green, black or herbal tea, and soothe
your scratchy throat while you ease your
Chamomile tea might be
especially powerful: People who drink
five cups of it daily have elevated levels
of hippurate—a by-product of plant
compounds that may have antibacterial
properties—according to a report in the
January 26, 2005 issue of the
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Soup & C
Like tea, soup’s healing
properties come partly from any hot
liquid’s ability to ease congestion. But
if you’re looking to do more than clear
your head, add some crushed garlic to
your next bowlful. Crushing garlic
releases allicin, a natural antibiotic that
fights viral and bacterial infections.
In other words, Grandma’s chicken
could have worked just as
well without the chicken!
We’ve all heard that vitamin
C can ward off or knock out a cold.
Sadly, a review of multiple studies says it
isn’t so. Taking vitamin C at the first
sign of a cold doesn’t shorten or lessen
your symptoms, reported reviewers in
October 2005 in the
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
. So stick to your
soup and slurp away—we won’t tell.
Steam & scent
Steam soothes irritated
nasal passages and helps clear your
nose, at least temporarily. Eucalyptus
oil helps loosen phlegm, says the
University of Maryland Medical
Center, so head to the shower,
and use a eucalyptus body
wash for a head-clearing
aromatherapy lift. Imagine you’re at
a spa, and you’ll feel even better.
Have a humidifier? You may
need one. Cold viruses thrive in low
humidity, which may be one reason we
get more colds in winter than any other
season. To the rescue: cool- or hot-mist
vaporizers (you can add eucalyptus oil
or medications to hot-mist). The Mayo
Clinic suggests no more than 50 percent
humidity in a room; too much and
mold will thrive. Keep your machines
mold-free with a thorough daily
cleansing and water change.
Tissues & trash
Get those germ-filled tissues
into the trash and out of the house
as soon as possible lest anyone else
come in contact with them and catch
The art of tissues keeps
evolving—Kleenex now makes an
antiviral tissue that purports to kill
99 percent of cold viruses. Made
up of three layers, the center one is
treated with an antiviral formula.
Bleach wipes & kids
If you’ve already got a cold,
stop it from spreading to everyone in
the house by sanitizing everything you
touch: light switches, doorknobs,
books, phones, remote controls, you
name it—give it a once-over with
a disposable bleach wipe. And don’t
forget everything in the kitchen and
bathroom, such as refrigerator handles,
drawer knobs and faucets.
Germs can live up to three
hours on your skin and hard surfaces,
according to the National Institutes
of Health. And kids catch and carry
home more cold germs than anyone,
so run those bleach wipes over all
the surfaces in your kids’ rooms too.
Soaps & sanitizers
Wash your hands, wash
your hands, wash your hands.
The easiest way to spread infections is
through human contact, says Jack M.
Gwaltney, MD, director of internal
medicine at the University of Virginia
School of Medicine in Charlottesville.
About 15–20 seconds of vigorous hand
scrubbing (the time it takes to sing
“Happy Birthday” twice) is the most
effective way to prevent the spread of
germs—short of becoming a hermit.
Any soap will do (it’s the
sudsy scrubbing that
removes germs). Antibacterial
soaps may have
other purposes, but they’re
no better than regular
soaps at fighting colds and
flu because both are caused
by viruses, not bacteria.
What’s better than soap? Alcohol-based hand sanitizers—the alcohol zaps germs, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW
Yogurt & supplements
Yogurt is loaded with
that settle in your intestines and
enhance overall immune function.
Yogurt with live cultures also helps
promote the “good” bacteria in
your body; this is particularly helpful
if you’re taking antibiotics, which
Taking a probiotic supplement
along with a multivitamin/mineral
pill could help reduce the number and
severity of cold symptoms, found
a study in the July 2005 issue of the
International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Paper cups & toothbrushes
Bathroom cups brim with
icky germs, so stock up on paper cups
for rinsing, gargling and swishing
liquids to soothe sore throats.
The CDC says there’s no
research to suggest you should change
your toothbrush after recovering from
a cold. But not everyone
agrees: Germs can thrive on
your toothbrush, says R. Tom
Glass, professor emeritus of
oral pathology at the University
of Oklahoma Health
Sciences Center. A possible
compromise: Opt for
transparent or translucent
brush heads, which seem to
resist contamination better
than solid colored ones.
The reason may have to do
with how easily ultraviolet
light—which may eliminate
viruses from your brush—
passes through them.
Of course, there are other suggestions to cut colds short, but not all are warranted. For instance, many people swear by echinacea but a study in the July 28, 2005 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine found that it doesn’t prevent or ease colds. Studies on zinc are inconclusive too: Taking zinc lozenges after you’ve caught a cold doesn’t seem to help more than any other lozenge. But using zinc lozenges daily when you aren’t sick may reduce the chance of catching a cold, reported a November 2002 study in the American Journal of Therapeutics.
However, zinc can have some side effects such as nausea and a metallic taste. So maybe just try sipping somesoup and stocking up onpaper cups—it’s better to be safe than sneezy.