Colds aren’t considered “common” for nothing – there are more than 200 viruses that can bring on the sniffles. “Most people can expect to suffer through two to four colds a year,” says Rohini Naipaul, a drug information pharmacist with the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association.
The bad news: there is no cure for the common cold. The good news: you can reduce your risk of catching one – and there are also many ways to soothe your symptoms should you fall ill.
Cold viruses enter your body through your mouth or nose and are very contagious. They can spread through droplets in the air when people cough or sneeze, shake hands or use shared objects, such as telephones, and later touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
This is why avoiding close contact with people who are sick and washing your hands thoroughly and frequently are the best ways to avoid catching a cold, says Naipaul. “There is no single reliable way of preventing colds, but these are the things you can do to reduce your risk of catching one,” she says.
When soap and water aren’t available, Naipaul recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (that contains at least 60-percent alcohol). It also helps to clean and disinfect common surface areas, such as desks and doorknobs, on a regular basis.
Cold symptoms usually surface about one to three days after you’ve been exposed to a virus and can include:
Colds usually last for seven to 14 days, so your best bet is to tackle your symptoms to help you feel better while your body fights the virus. Here are five common cold remedies you can try:
1. To relieve a cough or sore throat, try gargling with salt water, sucking on menthol-containing lozenges, or drinking warm lemon water with honey.
2. Crank up the humidifier as warm, humidified air can help relieve congestion. (Just remember to clean it regularly to avoid mould growth.)
3. Saline nasal drops or sprays can work wonders for a stuffy nose. “But only use these types of decongestants for a short period, ideally no longer than three days, to avoid rebound congestion,” says Naipaul.
4. Studies show chicken soup really can fight colds. Not only does it temporarily relieve congestion, it also acts as an anti-inflammatory to help you feel better faster.
5. Vitamin C may shorten the lifespan of the virus. “Research to date does not convincingly show that vitamin C can prevent colds, but it may help reduce the duration of a cold and the severity of the symptoms,” says Naipaul. The same may be true of Echinacea, she says, but there is also a greater risk of side effects, so it’s important to talk to a doctor or pharmacist before you take it.