How to Stop a Cold

One day you’re fine. The next you have a scratchy throat, watery eyes, and a runny nose. There’s a tickle in the back of your throat, and your normal high energy is nowhere to be found.

Yes, these are early signs that you’re coming down with something. But don’t grab your tissue box and hop into bed just yet -- there are ways to nip that cold in the bud.

Rest and Cut Your Stress

There’s a deep "mind-body" link at play when it comes to fighting off a cold, Estores says. If you feel tired, overworked, sad, or angry, those emotions can sink your mood. That can slow your immune system just when you need it running at full power to fight the cold virus.

Listen to your body when you feel a cold coming on. Get all the sleep you can. Get a handle on your stress -- it can quickly send a cold into high gear. "When you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to get a cold," Estores says.

Usually when you feel a cold coming on, your immune system jumps in and fights the virus. But too much stress cuts the number of cells that make up the front lines of defense. Stress also pumps up the level of cortisol in your body. This hormone zaps your immune system, and that makes you a prime target for a cold.

To give your immune system a charge, do something that relaxes you: Listen to music, meditate, or do a light workout. And don’t forget to rest, Estores says. Your body needs that, too.

Drink Up

It’s no fun to have to blow your nose or walk around with a head full of thick gunk. If this sounds like you, fluids are your friend. They’ll help unclog your nose and thin any mucus so you can cough or blow it out, says Jean Carstensen, MD, who teaches medicine and pediatrics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Keep a full glass close by. Any fluid -- besides alcohol -- will count toward keeping you hydrated. But plain water is best, Carstensen says.

If you feel feverish, it’s time to give your elbow a workout. A fever drains even more body fluids through sweat or through your lungs (as you breathe) than you would normally, Carstensen says.

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Sip Hot Tea and Honey

Mom had it right after all, Carstensen says. Drinking warm liquids helps to open up your stuffy nose and soothe a sore throat. Hot tea with a dollop of honey can help quiet a cough. But don’t give honey to children under a year old. It can make them very sick.

Act Fast

If you can’t hold off a cold, it’ll take for 5-7 days for your symptoms to improve, Carstensen says.

Getting an early jump on them on can help you manage them until you're well, she says. Start with over-the-counter medications like antihistamines with decongestants. You can take pain medicine like ibuprofen and acetaminophen for aches and pains.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 25, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Irene M. Estores, MD, medical director, integrative medicine program, University of Florida Health System.

Jean C. Carstensen, MD, clinical instructor of internal medicine and pediatrics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others."

Cohen, S. Psychological Science, September 2003.

Harvard Health Publications: "Using the relaxation response to reduce stress."

Cohen, S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 2012.

Sanu, A. Rhinology, December 2008.

KidsHealth.org: “Infant Botulism.”

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