Don't let a cold or the flu knock you out—start this doctor-approved plan at the first sign of a sneeze or sniffle
When the first cold symptoms strike, pulling the covers over your head and praying to the decongestant gods can feel like your only optios. But waiting for a cold to run its course could cost you two full weeks of feeling lousy. No, thanks! Fight off that little bugger fast. Follow these tips after the first sniffle or sneeze, and you'll bounce back to your healthy self in just 24 hours—we promise. (Plus, you can try these 10 Home Remedies for Cold and Flu.)
7 a.m. Step into a hot shower.
It can be hard to drag yourself out of bed when you wake up with aches and sniffles, but a steamy shower can clear the stuffiness that gets exacerbated from sleeping flat all night. The mist and humidity helps loosen mucus and clear your sinuses so you can breathe easier, says E. Neil Schachter, M.D., author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Cold and Flu. (Not that we can't make a Case for Cold Showers too!)
8 a.m. Take two teaspoons of elderberry syrup.
The syrup can be found at health food stores and is made from elderberries, which have anti-viral properties and boost the immune system, says Heather Jeney, an integrated pediatrician in Oradell, NJ. Take 2 teaspoons of the syrup up to three times a day to lessen the intensity and duration of a cold or flu. Bonus: This also works as a preventative measure if you've been exposed to someone sick (think: your snotty toddler or your sneezing seatmate on your commute).
9 a.m. Skip cereal and coffee in favor of eggs and tea.
Eggs are a complete protein, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids—important since protein ups the body's ability to fight infection, studies show. Pair your omelet with a steaming cup of tea with lemon and honey. Honey works better than a prescription cough syrup at easing a cough by coating the back of the throat," says Zeyed Baker, M.D., chief pediatric officer at Riverside Medical Group in Secaucus, NJ. (We've got 20 Quick and Easy Ways to Cook Eggs for you.)
12: 30 p.m. Sprinkle your salad with chickpeas and pumpkin seeds.
Both toppings are good sources of zinc—a nutrient that helps boost your body's response to infection and reduce inflammation. There's evidence that shows that taking zinc within the 24 hours of a cold will help shorten the duration and intensity, Schachtner says. Alternatively, stop into a drug store for zinc lozenges and suck on two a day until your cold subsides.
2 p.m. Refill your water bottle.
Time to head over to the water cooler. Hydration is crucial when you're fighting off an illness, since a low-grade fever increases the amount of liquid that evaporates from the body, putting you at a higher risk for dehydration. More so, getting adequate fluids helps your body wash away mucus that accumulates in nose and throat, Schachter says. Make it a point to drink two more cups than you normally consume (tea and soups count toward your daily quota!). (And watch out for these 5 Signs of Dehydration—Besides the Color of Your Pee.)
3 p.m. Take a walk.
When you're dragging, a 20-minute stroll around the block can lift your energy and help your symptoms. Moderate exercising like walking can help stimulate deep breaths and open your nasal passages so you can breathe easier. Exercise, too, increases the amount of beneficial bacteria in the intestines, which helps control the immune system, according to a study in the journal Gut.
6:30 p.m. Sip on chicken soup.
Your mom was on to something when she used to bring you chicken soup on sick days: The vapor and ingredients in chicken soup can suppress chemicals that cause inflamation in the body, Schachter says. Even if you can't get your hands on mom's homemade version, plain old canned soup works just as good as homemade in helping fight off the cold, a study published in the journal Chest found.
9 p.m. Clear your nose and throat.
Mucus that doesn't drain can fester during the night and cause an infection, so it's crucial to de-gunk pre-bedtime. Use a saline rinse or salt water gargle to draw out fluid and bacteria, Schachter says.
10 p.m. Hit the sack.
Fighting off a cold is no time to catch up on late-night TV. Your body needs at least seven hours to shut-eye to fend off a sickness, one study found. (It's Why Sleep Should Be Your No. 1 Priority for Flu Season!) To sleep soundly when you're stuffy, add an extra pillow to raise your head higher. This helps the sinuses drain to keep your nasal passages open and clear, Schachter says.