A lot of what we believe about the common cold is myth. No, you won't get a cold because you went outside with a wet head or slept in a drafty room. But here's what is true. When you're sick, some common mistakes can make your cold symptoms worse -- or prevent you from getting better.
If you're feeling crummy and stuffed up, here are 7 things that could make your cold worse.
- Pretending you're not sick. This never works. You can't ignore a cold. When you get sick, you need to take care of yourself. Your body needs extra energy when it's fighting an infection. If you try to push through a cold, especially if you have a fever, you'll exhaust yourself. That could make your cold worse.
- Not sleeping enough. Getting enough sleep is key for a healthy immune system. One study found that sleeping less than 7 hours a night almost triples your risk of getting a cold in the first place. If your cold symptoms keep you up at night, try to go to bed earlier or take naps during the day. You need extra rest, however you get it.
- Getting stressed. It turns out that stress can make you more likely to get a cold. Over time, high levels of stress hormones can stop your immune system from working normally. The result: More sick days.
- Drinking too little. You need to drink a lot of fluid when you're sick. Why? Fluids will help thin your mucus, making your sinuses drain better. Just about any fluid will help. Water, juice, hot tea, and soup are all good. Contrary to what you've heard, even milk is OK -- the notion that it causes mucus build-up is a myth.
- Drinking alcohol. Too much alcohol can leave you dehydrated and worsen cold symptoms such as congestion. It can also suppress your immune system and -- potentially -- interact with cold medications you're taking. Until you're feeling better, it's best to lay off the booze.
- Overusing decongestant sprays. Be careful with nasal decongestant sprays. They may work well at first. But if you use them for more than three days, your stuffy nose will get worse when you stop.
- Smoking. Smokers get more colds than nonsmokers. They also get worse colds that last longer. Smoking damages cells in the lungs, making it harder for you to fight off a cold. If you're sick with a cold, don't smoke -- and avoid exposure to other people's smoke.