This time of year I have a lot of patients asking me how to treat and prevent the common cold. One of the more frequent misconceptions I run into is that the common cold and the flu are the same thing. The common cold is typically caused by a virus that is completely different than the one that causes influenza. Usually, the common cold is an upper respiratory infection that is characterized by its irritation of the nasal sinuses, throat and lungs.
Typically, colds are contracted by touching surfaces where the virus is present. With this in mind, one of the key methods for preventing colds is to frequently wash your hands. Washing your hands frequently with regular soap can go a long way in helping you prevent contracting a cold. Using anti-bacterial foams can also work well to prevent the spread of the upper respiratory viruses.
Over hundreds of years, many proposed “natural” remedies for preventing and treating colds have arisen. However, there are not many good scientific studies to evaluate these remedies; therefore most experts do not believe that they truly help.
One of these common remedies is Vitamin C. People have used Vitamin C for many years to prevent colds and illnesses. There are some studies that have shown that vitamin C may decrease the duration and intensity of the symptoms of a cold.
Zinc is another nutrient that people commonly use to prevent and treat upper respiratory infections. Unfortunately for this one, there are not many large scale studies that routinely show this method to be effective.
Similarly Echinacea is thought to help with colds by having immune booster and antiviral properties. Again, this has not been proven.
Other agents that have been proposed to help, but not proven are: garlic, cod liver oil, Andrographis paniculata (kalmcold), and Pelargonium sidoides (geranium extract).
What do I recommend? The best bet is to keep your hands clean, and avoid touching surfaces in public areas and putting your hands to your mouth or nose. I recommend washing your hands before eating, and after using handrails or other surfaces that many people touch.
Although there continues to be debate about any treatments that can prevent or treat upper respiratory infections, many of my patients try these various remedies and have reported some success. The most common treatments that seem to reportedly help are vitamin C and Zinc. If you want to go this route, the recommended Vitamin C dose is usually 500mg twice a day.
If you do happen to catch a cold this winter, the best advice I can give is to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and try to eat meals like you normally would. These are the best ways to make sure that you keep your body rested and fueled up as it fights off the virus.
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