When days get shorter and temperatures drop, you probably brace yourself for the inevitable common cold. And with good reason! Here are 15 ways to help you beat this pesky virus!

1. Wash your hands often

Prevent a Cold

Cleaning hands frequently can ward off colds more effectively than any other measure. To be clean and virus free, hands should be washed with soap for a minimum of 15 seconds.

When sick people cough and sneeze, tiny droplets sprinkle surfaces with cold viruses. You pick up viruses when you touch those surfaces. If you touch your face before washing your hands, the germs enter your system.

“That’s how you catch a lot of colds; you bring your fingers to your nose or rub your eyes,” says Chuck Gerba, microbiology professor at the University of Arizona. “Adults touch their faces about 16 times an hour.”

Read more: How to clean away germs

 

2. Slather on sanitiser

If you don’t have access to soap and water, hand sanitiser can really help you de-bug.

“Hand sanitisers are pretty much equal to hand-washing to prevent colds,” Gerba says. “You reduce your risk of getting a cold by 30 to 50 per cent. And we have new data that even if the hands are visibly dirty, the hand sanitiser will be just as effective.”

Don’t just rely on sanitiser before you’re about to eat; use it when you’ve touched the photocopier at work or a bus handrail.

“Viruses spread through offices, homes and public transport like lightning,” Gerba says. “We did the study to show that hand sanitiser is effective; it dropped the spread by 90 per cent.”

Read more: Is it a cold or the flu?

 

3. Tempt your taste buds

When you’ve got a scratchy throat and runny nose, drink hot, tasty, fruit-flavoured cordials or a natural honey-and-lemon drink.

“They’ll provide great relief from sore throat and cough,” Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre, says. “It promotes the production of saliva and makes your nose run a little bit.”

Not all hot beverages achieve this effect. “Tea and coffee are not the same because they’re not as tasty,” Eccles says. “The more powerful the flavour, the better.”

Read more: How to cure a cold

 

4. Warm your sniffer

Prevent a Cold

When it’s cold outside, you bundle up in a coat and hat, but your nose isn’t protected from the elements. Exposing it to chilly temperatures lowers your resistance to viruses that are present in your nasal passages.

It does increase the chance of infection, Eccles says. “You can show a direct relationship between colds and flu and temperature. The colder it gets, the more colds and flu we get.”

Covering your nose and mouth with a scarf is the simplest solution. “The scarf will act like a heat exchange,” Eccles points out. “The air reaching your nose will be warmed from your mouth.”

 

5. Keep toes toasty

Research suggests that chilled feet can lower your resistance to cold viruses. Researchers at the Common Cold Centre divided seemingly healthy people into two groups, believing that some would be harbouring cold viruses. Half had their feet dipped into frigid water and that group developed significantly more colds.

“Chilling of any part of the body can do this, but the feet seem to be particularly sensitive,” Eccles says. “It’s weakening our defences and letting the virus trigger symptoms.”

 

Read more: Combat cold hands and feet for good

 

6. Avoid antibiotics

Many people mistakenly believe that they should take antibiotics for colds. Not only are they ineffective against cold viruses, they can cause future problems.

“When we unnecessarily take antibiotics for them, there’s an increasing chance of bacteria that we’re trying to treat becoming resistant to antibiotics in individuals,” says Dr Pasi Penttinen of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm.

“We’re seeing the emergence of bacteria that are resistant to last-line antibiotics, which severely limits treatment options. It’s one of the biggest public health threats in Europe and globally.”

Read more: Everything you need to know about antibiotics

 

7. Depend on over-the-counter relief

The best medication to soothe a cold might surprise you: over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen.

“Most people don’t think of it, but they treat sore throat pain, sinus pain, muscle aches and pains, chills, fever and headaches,” Eccles says.

Nearly as effective: nasal sprays with decongestants such as xylometazoline or oxymetazoline, which can relieve stuffy noses for ten to 12 hours.

“Decongestant tablets are only one-fifth as effective and they don’t last as long,” Eccles says.

Read more: What do doctors do when they’ve got a cold coming on?

 

8. Curl up in bed

Prevent a Cold

Many studies have found a connection between sleep deprivation and a higher incidence of colds. When you’re tired, it’s harder to work efficiently. That’s how your immune system feels when it has to fight off viruses without ample rest.

“Sleep deprivation is a big problem in Western countries,” Penttinen says. “The strongest defence against colds is the body’s own immune-defence system. Healthy lifestyles across the board—including sleeping enough—are a good way of keeping defences up.”

 

9. Do your D

Some studies suggest that vitamin D supplements may help to prevent colds during winter, although more research is needed.

People produce vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight, but in winter people are exposed to sunlight less often.

Ask your doctor if you should take vitamin D, particularly if you don’t eat dietary sources such as oily fish, eggs, fortified spreads and breakfast cereals. “There’s evidence, but it isn’t proven,” Eccles says. “I take a vitamin D tablet. It’s my placebo at the moment. It’s certainly worth a try and it won’t do you any harm.” He takes 25mcg.

 

10. Go sparingly on herbs

Many reach for echinacea or zinc to prevent or shorten the duration of colds. But studies have shown conflicting results.

Some research has found that zinc may shorten the duration of a cold, although the evidence isn’t overwhelming. But a recent review of echinacea studies found little evidence that it has an effect on colds, says study author Dr Marlies Karsch-Völk of the Institute of General Practice at Technical University in Munich.

“There are a lot of studies about it, but they’re not very well performed, so we can’t draw a strong conclusion,” she says. “We can’t say that there’s no effect; this is just about what we know.”

 

11. Clean mildly

Don’t fight an all-out war on germs during cold season, even if someone in your home is sick. When wiping down surfaces, use plain soap; antibacterial soaps are overkill.

“If somebody in the house has a cough or cold, cleaning with a neutral detergent and a cloth will be sufficient to stop any spread,” says Dr Nuala O’Connor, adviser on antibiotic resistance for the Irish College of General Practitioners. “The physical rubbing will reduce the amount of virus on a surface. If we use too many disinfectants, we’re going to encourage the development of resistant organisms.”

 

12. Go green (tea)

Prevent a Cold

An amino acid in green tea has been linked with cold prevention.

American researchers have found in a 2007 study that the compound, called L-theanine, helps to prevent the incidence of colds and makes symptoms less severe among cold sufferers, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

“It’s unusual for a food supplement to reduce the incidence of cold and flu,” says study author Susan S Percival, professor and chair of the department of food science and human nutrition at the University of Florida. “This was a fairly high amount given—it was equivalent to eight to ten cups of tea a day.”

You can take L-theanine supplements, but you may glean the same benefits from sipping strongly brewed green tea throughout the day: a German study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that L-theanine levels increased significantly in healthy adults whether they drank green tea or took supplements.

Read more: The health benefits of herbal tea

 

13. Lock lips with confidence

You might be inclined to avoid kissing your partner when one of you has a cold, but studies have shown that kissing doesn’t transmit cold viruses. 

Although they’re present in the tiny droplets that leave the nose and mouth during sneezes and coughs, your mouth doesn’t harbour viruses when you aren’t forcefully coughing.

To kiss a sniffly partner with confidence, plant one firmly on his or her mouth, rather than pecking the cheek. “You have to kiss on the lips because the other person may have touched their face with cold viruses on their hands,” Gerba says.

 

14. Behold the power of seaweed

Nasal spray derived from red seaweed may help to shorten the duration of your cold.

“Seawater contains the highest concentration of viruses of any natural product, even soil,” Eccles says. “A lot of organisms in the sea have developed antiviral mechanisms to prevent viruses from infecting them. Seaweed may have antiviral properties that we can harness to treat ourselves.”

Look for nasal sprays with the words “carrageenan” or “red seaweed” on the box. Eating seaweed or foods containing carrageenan (used to thicken beverages and ice cream) won’t have an effect on colds, Eccles says.

 

15. Scoop up yoghurt

You may know people who eat probiotic-containing yogurt to improve their digestive systems. 

Probiotics—live microorganisms, including specific beneficial bacteria that provide health benefits when eaten—also help immune function, and researchers have found that consuming probiotics regularly can keep colds at bay.

A recent review of ten studies by Korean researchers found that eating yogurt with probiotics for up to three months can help to ward off colds during cold and flu season.

“It doesn’t seem to be necessary to eat it every single day of the year—just during cold season,” Karsch-Völk says. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species are the most common microorganisms found in yogurt.

 

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