Cold Comfort Separating Fact From Fiction When It Comes to the Common Cold

You know it’s coming — that common cold that wreaks not-so-common havoc in your house.

You wipe all the door handles with anti-bacterial gel, disinfect the computer keyboards, dose your family with vitamin C, but still that cold virus seeps into your house and leaves you with coughing, sniffing, sneezing kids. Or worse yet, coughing, sniffing, sneezing adults.

We see ads telling us how to prevent colds and how to relieve their symptoms when they do hit. But which of them really works? What actually can help you fix a cold, or better yet, prevent one?

We checked with the staff at the Mayo Clinic and here’s what works — and what doesn’t.

What Works
A cold lasts for one to two weeks, but that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable. These remedies may help:

Drinking water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey helps loosen congestion and prevents dehydration. Avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas.

Salt water
A saltwater gargle can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat.

OTC saline nasal drops and sprays can combat stuffiness and congestion and are safe, even for small children.

OTC medicines for older children and adults
Nonprescription decongestants and pain relievers offer some symptom relief, but they won’t prevent a cold or shorten its duration.

Experts agree that these medications are dangerous in children younger than age 2.

Chicken soup.
Scientists have put chicken soup to the test, discovering that it does have effects that might help relieve cold and flu symptoms inex-pensively

Anti-histamines may provide minor relief of several cold symptoms, including cough, sneezing, watery eyes and nasal discharge.

Cold viruses thrive in dry conditions — another reason why colds are more common in winter. A humidifier can add moisture to your home but will need to be cleaned often.

What Doesn’t Work

These destroy bacteria, but they’re no help against cold viruses. Inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to the serious and growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

OTC cold and cough medications in young children
These medications may cause serious and even life-threatening side effects in children. The FDA warns against their use in children younger than age 2.

The cold-fighting reputation of zinc has had its ups and downs, but most studies generally show no benefit. Intranasal zinc may cause damage to the sense of smell.

What Probably Doesn’t Hurt

Vitamin C
Vitamin C won’t help the average person prevent colds, but it can shorten the duration of symptoms.

Studies are mixed on the effectiveness of echinacea at preventing or shortening colds.

If your immune system is healthy and you are not taking prescription medications, using echinacea supplements is unlikely to cause harm.

There are no reliable studies to prove this popular supplement can prevent, shorten or cure colds. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “Airborne is basically an overpriced, run-of-the-mill vitamin pill that’s been cleverly, but deceptively, marketed.”