While there’s no cure for the common cold, there are treatments everyone still swears by: chicken soup, vitamin C and even a hot toddy. But do these age-old remedies have any affect on a cold at all?
“One thing we do know is that chicken soup tends to soothe the lower pharynx, which can help decrease mucus and soothe a sore throat,” according to Brent Fuller, M.D., Beaumont internal medicine and pediatrics. “It makes you feel better and can help with some of the symptoms, including decongesting sinuses. If your someone is making soup for you, just feeling like you’re being taken care of can help make you feel better, too.”
Pour yourself a glass of orange juice and read on. Some medical research shows vitamin C does have some benefit and can decrease the severity of cold symptoms.
“Vitamin C seems to help men who take 90 milligrams and women who take 75 milligrams a day,” said Dr. Fuller. “There isn’t a dosing standard for kids, but usually I suggest a multivitamin with vitamin C.”
Supplements and herbs
There are numerous over-the-counter remedies that claim to reduce the length of the common cold, or even prevent you from getting a cold at all. These simply aren’t effective, and in some cases, can cause harm.
For example, nasal sprays loaded with zinc have been shown to reduce your senses of smell and taste. “As a physician, I don’t recommend them,” warned Dr. Fuller. “What little benefit you get doesn’t outweigh the risk. I tend to stay away from those.”
Other treatments, such as Airborne, fall into this category as well. The little benefit some people experienced from taking them, was probably because of the vitamin C and nothing more.
Additionally, Dr. Fuller recommends avoiding Echinacea. “All the literature shows there is no benefit with Echinacea. With a lot of these herbals, small doses probably won’t hurt you, but it’s not helping you,” he said.
Ointments, such as Vick’s VapoRub, can help with symptoms of a cold. However, it’s really only helpful if you rub it on your chest to help with coughing and congestion, not on the feet, as some people prefer.
As it turns out, the ingredients in a hot toddy: whiskey, honey, lemon and hot water, can relieve some cold symptoms, according to Dr. Fuller.
“A classic hot toddy can help by relieving nasal congestion because of the heat,” he said. “The alcohol can help you relax, suppress the cough a little, and it can help you fall asleep. However, too much alcohol will do the opposite by suppressing the immune system, so limit yourself to 1.5 ounces of alcohol per day.”
With all of these treatments, it’s important to remember the best way to fend off colds is to keep your immune system in top shape:
- get six to eight hours of sleep per night
- exercise 30 minutes every day
- eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables
“The bottom line is we don’t have a cure and no matter what anybody claims, there’s nothing that will significantly impact the length of a cold. You’re really just decreasing symptoms,” said Dr. Fuller.