How to Get Rid of a Cold in a Day

Three Methods:Tackling Symptoms at HomeUsing Medications and HerbalsStrengthening Your Immune System

While it is rarely a serious medical condition, the common cold can be a serious annoyance. From chicken soup to zinc syrup, people will claim that this or that food or supplement will curtail cold symptoms. And who wouldn’t want to have only a one-day cold? Sadly, the truth is that fighting a cold is a multi-day process that can be hastened only a bit (if at all), according to medical science.[1] There are, however, simple steps you can take to both alleviate cold symptoms and improve your odds of avoiding a cold in the first place.

Method 1
Tackling Symptoms at Home

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    Stay hydrated. With the common cold, as with most every other illness, proper hydration is key to the body’s fighting abilities. Dehydration will only add further complications for your body to deal with, and lessen its capacity for battling the cold.
    • Generally speaking, drinking plain old water is the best way to hydrate when you have a cold, or anytime for that matter. The traditional recommendation is eight, 8-ounce glasses of water per day, but it is very difficult to drink too much water.[2]
    • When you have a cold, you may also want to try electrolyte drinks (such as sports drinks). This is more important when you are actively losing fluids due to an illness, but it may also be beneficial in this case as well.[3]
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    Rely on salt and steam for relief. We all know the discomfort of the scratchy throat and stuffy nose that usually accompany the common cold. Thankfully, there are simple home remedies that can help provide some relief.
    • Try gargling and spitting with tepid or warm salted water. This can help soothe the throat irritation caused by inflammation, and the antibacterial properties of the saline solution may aid in your battle against germs.[4]
    • Some people like to use a neti pot or similar device to irrigate the nasal passages with salted water, but you can also achieve a similar decongestant effect with saline nasal sprays.[5]
    • Try a hot shower, a steam, or some other source of warm, moist air. Humid air helps open breathing passages and can assist in soothing irritation. Even a room humidifier will offer some benefit.[6]
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    Try Grandma's remedies. Not all "tried-and-true" remedies have stood the test of time based on scientific evidence, but others do seem to have legitimate reasons for success in treating cold symptoms.
    • Prepare chicken soup. This old wives’ tale has some scientific basis to back it up. The combination of broth, vegetables and chicken seems to inhibit part of your immune system response that creates respiratory symptoms. In addition, the hot broth reduces mucus and improves your hydration.[7]
    • Substitute green, Echinacea and herbal teas for coffee. You should drink plenty of water while you are ill, and these teas don’t have high diuretic effects like coffee. They will also thin mucus, helping it to leave the body faster.[8]
    • Eat a spicy meal for lunch or dinner. Try chili peppers in a chili, curry or stir fry, which contain high-levels of capsaicin. It is an antioxidant that can also clear out mucus from your nasal passages. This could cause further throat irritation, however.

Method 2
Using Medications and Herbals

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    Address your pain. People often reach for multi-symptom cold medications even when pain (like from a sore throat) is the primary complaint. If pain is your main symptom, then a dedicated pain reliever is probably your best option.[9]
    • Pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be quite effective in dealing with a sore throat and other pain associated with a cold. Always follow the recommended dosing instructions. Take special care if you are also taking a cold medication with a pain reliever, as it can be easy to exceed the recommended daily dose that way.
    • Aspirin may also be effective, but it can lead to bleeding problems, so talk to your doctor particularly if you are taking blood thinners or have bleeding issues. Children under age 19 should never take aspirin because of the risk of developing Reye's syndrome.
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    Combat your cough and congestion. Find an over the counter cough suppressant or nasal decongestant (or combination), especially if your cough or stuffy nose are keeping you awake at night. Take it according to package directions until the symptoms go away.[10]
    • Some people contend that honey (by the spoonful or in tea) is just as effective a cough suppressant as any OTC variety. It can’t hurt to try it.
    • Don't use cough suppressants or decongestants for more than three days, or your symptoms may return in a more severe form.[11]
    • Children under five should not use any OTC cold remedies without a doctor’s supervision.
    • Remember, antibiotics treat infections, and therefore are useless against viruses like the common cold.
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    Consider vitamin C. Research into the cold-taming effectiveness of vitamin C is confusing and often contradictory. Some people swear by it, while others think its use is worthless. By and large, however, taking vitamin C to combat a cold is at worst unlikely to do harm.
    • There is some limited evidence that vitamin C may help reduce the length of the average cold by up to one day, if it is taken regularly for a long period of time (not just when you are sick). Some claim that high doses of vitamin C can cut short an existing cold, but the evidence is lacking. However, you are very unlikely to cause any harm by taking large doses of vitamin C.[12]
    • Those who espouse high-dose vitamin C will tell you to choose a full fruit juice or supplement with at least 200 mg.[13]
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    Look into zinc. Like vitamin C, there is a great deal of conflicting information on the benefits or using zinc supplements to fight a cold. Unlike vitamin C, however, there is a danger in taking too much zinc. When taken within recommended limits, it is generally safe and possibly effective in curtailing a cold.
    • Taking more than 50 mg of zinc daily for any extended period of time can be harmful to your health, and there have been reports that zinc nasal sprays can cause permanent damage to one's sense of smell.[14]
    • With those concerns in mind, using zinc syrup or zinc acetate lozenges every 3 to 4 hours during the first 24 hours of your cold (adding up to 50 mg per day), may possibly reduce the time you are sick by a day.[15] Some medical experts see these claims as wildly overblown, however.[16]
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    Try other herbal or natural remedies. The benefits of other traditional remedies, such as echinacea, ginseng, and selenium are unclear, but may be worth a try in moderation. Selenium in particular should be taken according to recommended guidelines, because it can be detrimental in high doses.[17][18]
    • Taking 300 mg of echinacea three times per day may help you to ward off colds, according to some studies. However, if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have a ragweed allergy, or have an autoimmune disease, you should consult a doctor first.[19]
    • Taking up to 400 mg of ginseng daily, or a daily garlic supplement, may also give you an immune system boost to help ward off colds. Both these options, however, may interfere with a wide range of prescription medications, so check with your doctor first.
    • Eating probiotic foods may also improve your immune system response, although again the research is unclear[20]. While yogurt and cheese may not the best sources while you have mucus, consider trying sauerkraut, miso soup, sourdough bread, kombucha, and tempeh. Healthy bacteria in your gut may possibly reduce the time of infection.[21]

Method 3
Strengthening Your Immune System

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    Eat a balanced diet. While we’d all like to believe there is a “superfood” or two out there that can cure a cold, the legitimate medical evidence to back up such claims is slim at best. However, eating a balanced, healthy diet can only improve your odds of having a strong immune system, which gives you the best chance of fending off a cold before it strikes.[22]
    • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Try onions, blueberries, bell peppers, carrots, garlic, citrus fruits, mushrooms, fennel, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes, among others. They contain high levels of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, antioxidants, beta-carotene and B vitamins, which may improve how your immune system functions.
    • Eat lean proteins, such as fish, poultry, pork and eggs. Vitamin E, zinc, selenium and iron are found in these foods. They may help boost immune system response.[23]
    • This list of so-called cold-fighting superfoods may or may not help you curtail a cold, but it does offer a group of many healthy food options that can only benefit your immune system when eaten in proper amounts.
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    Exercise regularly. Like a proper diet, regular exercise promotes a healthy body, which is more likely to have a strong immune system that can better combat the cold virus, perhaps even stopping it before it starts.[24]
    • If you already have a cold, one or two 30-minute walks per day may be of benefit by improving circulation and lowering stress. While the relationship is unclear, low to moderate exercise may also play an important role in the immune system response.[25]
    • Low to moderate exercise is recommended when you have a cold, because over-exertion can take energy away from your body while it is trying to fight off the virus.
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    Rest and relax. Too much stress and too little sleep are bad for your body whether you are fighting a cold or are otherwise feeling great. A rested and refreshed body is more likely to fight off a cold before it starts or possibly limit the amount of time you have to suffer having one.
    • Get eight or more hours of sleep. Your body recharges during periods of uninterrupted sleep, allowing your immune system the opportunity to strengthen. And when you have a cold, sleeping lets your body focus even more of its energy on fighting the virus.[26]
    • Use OTC medications or recommended home remedies to ease cold symptoms so that you can get a more restful night’s sleep.
    • Reduce stress levels. If work is the reason you are stressed out and have a poor immune system response, try taking the first day of the cold off to focus on treatments and getting better. You could possibly reduce the time you have the cold by one or more days.[27]
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    Be proactive with prevention. The only sure way not to suffer from a lingering cold is to avoid ever catching it in the first place. Of course, even the person with the best immune system and most immaculate hygiene will get sick from time to time, but you can improve the odds with some simple steps.
    • The best way to avoid the common cold is to wash your hands regularly after contact with people or dirty surfaces. Reducing your contact with people who have colds will also reduce your risk of contracting a virus.[28]
    • Have regular medical screenings with your doctor. This is the best way to assess your overall health and address conditions or lifestyle choices that may make you more susceptible to colds and other illnesses.[29]

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Home Remedies