Stop a Cold in Just 12 Hours
If You're Prone to Acute Bronchitis
A few days after cold symptoms appear, you may notice trouble brewing in
your lungs. "Upper respiratory tract infections develop in the — no
surprise — upper airways and then spread to the lower," notes Ron Eccles,
Ph.D., director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University in Wales.
That's why you start coughing two or three days after a cold begins — a sign
your windpipe and the tiny tubes in your lungs are becoming inflamed. These
steps can help protect against infection.
- Steer clear of cigarettes. Smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke
weaken your ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. At the same time, dozens
of nasty chemicals in tobacco smoke may cause inflammation in your airways,
further slowing the cilia. The result: more coughing, as you try to clear globs
- Don't curl up in front of the fire. Breathing in the tiny particles
in wood smoke can be especially irritating to airways when you have a cold,
says Melvin Pratter, M.D., head of pulmonary and critical-care medicine at
Cooper University Hospital in Camden, NJ. One report estimates that emissions
from wood fires (as well as coal-fired power plants, cars, and other sources)
cause 20,000 cases of acute bronchitis a year. If you use a wood stove for
heat, be sure it burns efficiently; best is one certified by the Environmental
- Skip spray cleaners. Aerosol and pump-bottle products contain
chemicals that can irritate lungs, says Dr. Pratter. "When you have a
respiratory infection, take a brief holiday from cleaning."
- Try ivy-leaf extract. In a German study of 1,350 children and adults
with chronic bronchitis, more than 85 percent of those who took this botanical
remedy had less pain, coughing, and mucus production. Several varieties of the
extract are sold in natural foods stores.
- Call the doctor if you have a fever, shortness of breath, or a
severe cough; you have asthma, emphysema, or COPD; or you get bronchitis
If You're Prone to Ear Infections
They're not just kid stuff: About a third of adults with colds wind up with
negative air pressure in the middle ear caused by swelling or congestion of the
eustachian tubes. These tubes normally let air into the middle ear and, if
necessary, drain fluid from it. A blockage or swelling can create a vacuum so
that when the tube opens up again it may suck in virus-packed secretions from
your nose — and lead to an infection. To prevent it:
- Start decongestants — stat! Sprays and pills that shrink swollen
nasal passages can help keep your eustachian tubes open, says Dr. Marshall.
Don't waste any time: Those tiny tubes can become blocked quickly — within two
to three days after a cold begins.
- Don't pop your ears. Taking a big breath, then forcing the air back
into your ears while you close your mouth and hold your nose is a good trick to
try when your ears need clearing on an airplane. But it's best not to use that
technique when you have a cold — you may push infected mucus into the
- Avoid smoke. In laboratory studies, researchers from the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that repeated exposure to tobacco smoke
(cigarettes, pipes, cigars) slowed down cilia in the eustachian tubes.
"That's not helpful if you're trying to move mucus down the tubes and away
from your middle ear," says Birgit Winther, M.D., of the University of
Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville.
- Call the doctor if you have a fever, severe headache, dizziness,
worsening pain or hearing, or there's swelling around your ear.