Even if you're someone who hardly ever gets seriously sick, chances are you'll have to contend with at least one cold this season (and probably sooner rather than later). In fact, they're so 'common' the average adult has about two to three colds per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you (like the rest of us) want to know how to get rid of a cold, there's sadly no cure, since a cold can't be wiped out by antibiotics.
“Congestion, cough, sore throat, runny nose, fever, headache, muscle aches — it's all caused by viruses,” of which there are more than 200 subtypes that can lead to the common cold, says Diana Daftari, M.D., a California-based physician.
These viruses are transmitted by contact, whether it be by shaking hands, sneezing, or swapping spit, explains Yvette McQueen, M.D., an emergency and global physician.
While Dr. Daftari says symptoms will typically resolve within seven to 10 days (and you should reach out to your doctor if they don’t), it doesn’t mean there's nothing you can do to feel better while it runs its course.
Here, experts weigh in on a few of their favorite methods for finding relief when a cold does come your way — plus how to speed up your period of suffering.
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1. Pop some zinc.
Donese Worden, N.M.D., a naturopathic doctor and global educator, recommends taking immune-boosting zinc within 24 hours after you first experience cold symptoms, since research shows it can reduce the severity of symptoms and the duration of a cold. She recommends patients continue taking at least 75 mg per day until you feel better.
And to keep colds at bay in the first place, Worden recommends boosting your immunity year-round with zinc-rich foods, including shellfish, legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy, and eggs.
2. Don’t forget chicken soup.
Would this really be a list about how to get rid of a cold quickly if it didn’t include chicken soup? The answer is no — and it’s for good reason, says Dr. Joshua Axe, D.N.M., the founder of Ancient Nutrition and author of KETO DIET.
“Chicken soup helps thin mucus (which builds up in the body in response to the infection) so it’s loose enough to cough up — and it helps clear the nasal congestion,” he says. “Research also suggests some of its ingredients may be anti-inflammatory, which allows your immune system to best use its energy to fight the infection.”
3. Break out the essential oils.
While this cold compress won’t “cure” the common cold (remember: nothing does), it will help soothe body aches, chills, and fatigue, says Hellen Yuan, an aromatherapist and founder of HELLEN.
1. Add five drops of peppermint, three drops of eucalyptus, two drops of laurel and one cup of lavender hydrosol water to a small bowl and stir.
2. Fill a separate large bowl with cold water and pour mixed essential oils from the small bowl into the large bowl.
3. Soak a hand towel in the water, squeeze out extra water and then place the towel on your face, neck and forehead, repeating as needed.
Yuan says not only will the compress have a cooling effect, but the oils can work to combat stuffiness and decrease respiratory symptoms related to a cold.
4. Drink (more) water.
No, water won't speed up your cold necessarily, but it will keep you from feeling even worse. Not only will drinking enough water keep you dehydrated, Dr. Axe says, but drinking at least eight ounces every two hours will help loosen mucus buildup, too.
If you think you might be suffering from the flu it's even more crucial to load up on H2O since common symptoms, like sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite, can all lead to dehydration.
5. Pop a probiotic.
If you aren't already taking a probiotic supplement for gut health, you may want to start, since they can help you immune system better respond to the cold virus, Worden says. As a general rule, you’ll want to look for a probiotic supplement that provides a minimum of 1 billion CFUs (aka colony forming units, or viable/live cells) per dose to reap the benefits.
You can also try bulking up on some of your favorite fermented food foods (which contain naturally occurring probiotics), like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, cabbage, kimchee, pickles, and soybean-based miso, she suggests.
6. Get more sleep.
Consider this your permission to snooze your morning alarm. Experts across the board agree that sleep is key when it comes to squashing a cold fast.
In fact, Dr. McQueen says that getting adequate rest is not only one of the best ways to get rid of a cold, but it also might keep it from occurring in the first place. In one study, researchers found that those who slept less than seven hours over a two week period were nearly three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept eight hours or more.
7. Try elderberry supplements.
Elderberry has grown popular in recent years as a way to combat cold and flu season, but the medicinal plant has been used for hundreds of years to fight upper respiratory infections and boost immunity.
Dr. Axe recommends popping an elderberry lozenge in place of a traditional menthol cough drop, but notes it can also be used preventatively. In a 2016 study published in Nutrients, travelers who took elderberry capsules ten days before flying overseas experienced an average two-day decrease in cold duration and also a noticeable reduction in cold symptoms.
8. Don’t underestimate OTC meds.
If you’re looking for quick, albeit temporary, relief, then you might want to try an over-the-counter treatment, like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen), which are popular for alleviating cold-related head and muscle aches, Dr. Daftari says. Other OTC meds — such as decongestants and nasal sprays — may also help knock out that feeling that a massive weight is sitting atop your forehead. You know the one.
9. Make this ginger tea.
You've probably tried ginger ale to ease nausea, but ginger root can also help your cold ailments thanks to compounds that boast anti-inflammatory properties.
For an alternative to over-the-counter cold medicine, Dr. Axe suggests adding a slice of fresh ginger (or a ginger tea bag) to a cup of hot water and topping it off with lemon, honey, and cinnamon. The concoction with help alleviate a sore throat, runny nose, and cough, he says.
10. Wash your damn hands.
OK, this one isn’t as much about getting rid of a cold, as it is a means for thwarting the spread of the virus to the next innocent bystander. The best way to do that? Practice proper hand hygiene, like washing with soap and water or using hand sanitizer, Dr. Daftari says.
The CDC recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds to help protect from (and stop the spread of) cold viruses, and to avoid touching your eyes, nose and/or mouth with unwashed hands. If you’re sick, keep your hands to yourself, avoid close contact with other people — no hugging, handshaking or kissing — and take care to cough or sneeze into a tissue or the inside of your elbow. (Read: Not your hands.)