How to Kick a Cold Lightning Fast

how to kick a cold: a girl sitting on a couch holding a cup of tea and a crumpled tissue, with another tissue and cold medicine in her lap

Your science-backed day-by-day plan for how to kick a cold, stat. You've got this.

01 of 06

How to Kick a Cold — Fast

How to Kick a Cold Fast
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Sniffling? The average adult has about two to three colds a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which means there are millions of cases of the common cold every single year. That also means the highly contagious virus is literally everywhere — from doorknobs to elevator buttons to the handle on your cart in the supermarket (where it can live for hours), says Neil Schachter, M.D., medical director of the respiratory care department at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu.

Surely, you've heard a lot of tips for getting better as fast as possible — the key is figuring out what works and what is a waste of time so that you can kick your cold super fast. Here, doctors share healthy advice you can really trust.

02 of 06

Cold Symptoms Day 1: Congested and Achy

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Pop a probiotic. Taking the healthy bacteria daily can kick a cold about two days faster and make your cold symptoms 34 percent less severe, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Probiotics help regulate your immune system's inflammatory response, reducing symptoms such as wheezing. Look for the strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG and Bifidobacterium animalis BB-12.

Spray away. Start using a saline nasal rinse three times a day. This will flush out the cold virus that is making you sick, as well as compounds that cause sniffling such as histamines, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes. (But first, you might want to make sure it's just a cold.)

Suck on zinc. Research in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that zinc lozenges can shorten a cold duration by about three days. Take at least 80 milligrams over the course of a day, starting as soon as you notice symptoms and continuing until you feel better, says lead study author Harri Hemilä, M.D., Ph.D. "We're not sure exactly how zinc works, but one theory is that it actually prevents the cold virus from replicating," says Dr. Schachter. (See also: Is Zinc Really That Good for You?)

03 of 06

Cold Symptoms Day 2: Not Feeling Great But Pushing Through

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Sleep in. "When you don't get enough zzz's, your immune system doesn't work as efficiently because it's not getting all the fuel it needs," says Aric Prather, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Weill Institute for Neurosciences at the University of California, San Francisco. The more you sleep, therefore, the more energy your body has to send to your immune system, and the faster you can bounce back from your cold. Science backs this up: Research finds that people who sleep less have weaker immune systems than those who get between seven and a half to eight and a half hours of rest per night.

Or sweat it out. Feeling kind of okay? Try doing a 30-to 60-minute workout at home. "Most cold viruses can survive only in temperatures around 98.6 degrees," says Richard Martin, M.D., a family medicine physician at Geisinger Health System. "A fever is your body's natural way of killing a virus, and working out accomplishes the same thing," he says. However, it's best to exercise before your symptoms have peaked. If congestion is making it hard to breathe or if you already feel feverish, skip it. (And if you would usually hit the gym, keep the health of your fellow gym-goers in mind and work out from home. The at-home workout ideas are endless!)

04 of 06

Cold Symptoms Day 3: Feeling Pretty Sick (Ugh)

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Try turmeric. The yellow spice contains curcumin, an anti-inflammatory chemical that can stop a virus in its tracks, according to research from George Mason University. "All viruses turn on a group of proteins known as NFKB," says Fatah Kashanchi, Ph.D., the study's coauthor. "If you can shut down NFKB, you can stop the virus or at least slow it down. And curcumin does exactly that," she adds. Take a 1,000-milligram curcumin supplement twice daily for the duration of your cold. (See more: All the Health Benefits of Turmeric, Explained)

Press for relief. "Studies have shown that acupuncture and acupressure can affect levels of immune proteins known as interleukins, helping you fight viruses a day or two faster," says Bill Reddy, a licensed acupuncturist and the director of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium in Washington, D.C. Use the pads of your fingers to press, tap, or massage these spots: Just inside each eyebrow; on both sides of your nose; on both sides of your spine, where your neck meets your skull; and just below your collarbone.

Cancel your workout class. Now is the time to officially take a break from exercise. "When your symptoms are at their worst, you likely won't be able to exercise enough to do any good," says Dr. Martin. You'll get more benefits from extra rest, so take a nap instead.

05 of 06

Cold Symptoms Day 4: You're Feeling a Little Better

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Stretch it out. Do some light yoga or take a walk, recommends Dr. Martin. "Anything that gets your heart rate up and your blood flowing will help circulate your white blood cells throughout your body, oxygenate your muscles, and raise your temperature slightly, all of which will help you get healthier," he explains.

Give your nose some TLC. You'll be tempted to blow your nose vigorously since mucus tends to thicken as a cold progresses, but lighten up. "If you blow hard, you'll irritate the mucus membrane more," notes Dr. Martin. The result: Your congestion will last days longer. Use a saline spray just before blowing to soften the mucus and make it easier to expel without excess huffing and puffing.

06 of 06

Cold Symptoms Day 5: Feeling Normal But Coughing and Dripping

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Spot-treat symptoms. Avoid combination cold medicines, which contain a mix of decongestant, antihistamine, and expectorant drugs, says Dr. Martin. At best, they're not very effective, he notes. At worst, though, they can cause side effects such as drowsiness or even heart palpitations. You'll get quicker relief using two or more remedies that target a single specific symptom. For a runny nose, for example, take a non-sedating antihistamine. For a cough, try tea with honey; it can be super effective at suppressing a cough. (See also: The Health Benefits of Honey Are Surprisingly Sweet)

Get back to your workouts (if you want). Restarting your exercise routine can help you kick your cold faster. Stick to cardio, which is best at boosting blood flow, oxygenating your tissues, and releasing symptom-relieving endorphins, suggests Dr. Martin. Just listen to your body and dial back the intensity of your workouts as needed. (And save the gym for when you're feeling completely better.)

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