The average adult comes down with two to four colds every year. Add these tricks into your routine to keep that number low. (Photo: Frank May)
Fall means ABCs, 123s — and sniffles and sneezes. To avoid colds and the flu this season, keep these numbers in mind. (No Common Core math required!)
1. Sleep at least seven hours each night
People have four times the odds of catching a cold if they sleep fewer than six hours a night, compared with people who snooze more than seven hours, a recent study found. The study researchers sequestered participants in a hotel and dosed them with the cold virus to see who could fight it off. The results: Short sleepers were significantly more likely to come down with cold symptoms that week, even when researchers controlled for things like stress and smoking.
2. To cut the chance of getting a cold by 35 percent, take one probiotic supplement per day
In a recent study, University of Florida students were significantly less likely to catch a cold when they took a probiotic (beneficial bacteria) supplement during finals season. And when they did catch a cold, symptoms didn’t last as long for the probiotic poppers (1.8 days compared to 2.4 days). Your gut is full of immune cells, and experts believe that “good bacteria” may communicate with these cells to boost immunity.
Related: How to Stock a Probiotic Pantry
3. Expect that a cough will last about 17.8 days — and it may just need to run its course
Although most adults expect a cough to last about a week, a literature review found that most coughs actually stick around for two to three weeks — 17.8 days on average. Most of the time, antibiotics don’t help a cough, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), so hold off on asking your doc for antibiotics if it’s only been a week — the cold may just need to run its course. Overuse of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance, which means the drugs don’t work as well.
If you have a fever and are coughing up blood or a large amount of mucus, however, it’s worth checking in with your doctor; you may have pneumonia, which may need to be treated with antibiotics or hospitalization.
4. Take antiviral medications for the flu within two days of the start of symptoms to shorten the flu by one to two days
There are three FDA-approved prescription medications to treat the flu, and they’re more effective the sooner you start taking them. The CDC recommends starting the drugs within the first day or two of the onset of flu-like symptoms.
Keep in mind that these medications aren’t miracle cures. They make symptoms milder and may help you get over the flu a day or two faster than you would otherwise. That’s why the CDC recommends flu medication for people who have a high risk of flu complications, such as people older than 65, those with weakened immune systems, and people with asthma.
Related: Do You Have a Cold … or the Flu?
5. Take at least 75 milligrams of zinc when cold symptoms start
A research review from Finland found that zinc lozenges can help you get over a cold about 40 percent faster — but only if you take a dose with at least 75 milligrams of zinc. Studies using lower amounts of zinc didn’t show any effect. Zinc plays an important role in your immune system and also helps prevent the cold virus from multiplying.
Zinc is most effective when you take it within 24 hours of when symptoms begin, studies have found. Research also shows that taking zinc daily for at least five months reduces the incidence of colds in children.
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