Ask LH: What's The Best Way To Deal With A Cold?

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Dear Lifehacker, what's the best way to deal with a cold? Some people tell me to use drugs, others tell me that stops my body fighting it naturally. Some people tell me to blow my nose, some say that's a waste of time. Should I rest? Should I exercise and sweat it out? What should I be eating? Should I avoid dairy or is that a bunch of bullshit. HELP ME PLEASE. Thanks, Constantly Coughing Coworker.

Dear Triple C,

First thing to do is Calm Down. Stress is not a helpful thing when you’re suffering from a cold.

That’s a super subjective question because we first need to identify what ‘a cold’ is? If it’s just ‘the common cold’ that’s playing havoc with your body, then your options are fairly limited but that would also depend on whether or not it’s bacterial or viral. If it’s something more severe, like ‘the flu’ then we’re going to have to quarantine you and if it’s an allergy, like hay fever, then we’ve recently published a whole list of ways to fight it.

Basically, I’m not a GP and I can’t diagnose you, but I can give you a few tips.

With the information you’ve given me I am going to assume that you’re struggling with the common cold which is a type of virus. We can’t ‘cure’ you, so the best way to deal with that is to treat the symptoms.

Let’s start with your question about drugs or fighting the cold naturally.

‘Drugs’ are going to be useful, but you have to make sure you’re taking the right kinds. If you do have a rhinovirus and start taking antibiotics, you’re not going to help yourself at all. Antibiotics are targeted towards bacteria – or ‘living organisms’ – and thus, if you’ve got a virus-based cold, they’re not going to do a thing to help you deal with it. If you do use antibiotics when you’ve got a cold, then you’re contributing to antibiotic resistance and it’ll be harder to kill the nasty bacteria in the future.

Truthfully, the best two options are to stay hydrated and to ensure you get enough rest. Hydration helps to keep your head from clogging up so ensure you’re water intake is high. Don’t drink alcohol, coffee or soft drink, especially highly-caffeinated forms. Do you like tea? That helps too, because the warmth can increase mucus flow. Your nose might run more, but that’s beneficial! Then, take a sick day, spend all day in bed and try not to exert too much energy. When you’re body is fighting off an infection, it needs to use the energy to fight, not to help you get to and from work or stress about meetings and KPIs.

That said, exercising is, generally, not detrimental. However, as I said, if you are putting energy into something then you’re putting less energy into fighting off the disease. It’s definitely not cool to exercise if you’re feeling weak in parts of your body other than your head. As the Mayo Clinic says “exercise is usually OK if your symptoms are all ‘above the neck’. So, if you feel up to it, sure, but I’d say use the sickness to avoid doing chores and cooking for a day!

Who told you blowing your nose is a waste of time? If you’re happy to have snot hanging off your face all day, that’s great. Improving mucus flow is a good thing and it’s much better to evacuate the nasal passage then constantly sniff mucus back up into your head. The problem is there’s no real stopping it. Blowing your nose means you’ll continue to blow your nose. It’s a vicious cycle. An ouroboros of viral despair. Nasal sprays may provide some relief, though this will be short-lived.

As for the cold diet, there’s a few things you could do. Increasing your vitamin C intake prior to cold season may be helpful in staving off a cold, but once you’ve contracted one, there’s no solid evidence that says vitamin C is helpful. You sound like you’ve heard the myth about dairy intake a production of mucus. A BBC story in April described an experiment where researchers deliberately infected people with the common cold and then gave them milk, finding that this had no impact on the quantity of mucus secretions. So I think you're safe if you want to keep drinking milk, just try to avoid things like coffee. I hope that you’ll be fighting fit again in no time,

Cheers, Lifehacker

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