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. We know you've heard a lot of tips for avoiding these nasty germs—the key is figuring out what works and what is a waste of time so that you can kick your cold super fast. Here, straight from the medical lab, healthy advice you can really trust. Also necessary? Learning how to disinfect your phone during cold and flu season.
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Cold Symptoms Day 1: Congested and Achy
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Pop a probiotic. Taking the healthy bugs 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 like 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 like histamines, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes that cause sniffling.
Suck on zinc. These lozenges shorten cold duration by about three days, research in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found. 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.
Cold Symptoms Day 2: Not Feeling Great But Pushing Through
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Sleep in. "When you don't get enough z'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 assistant 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. If you *have* to go to work, at least get a good night's rest: People who sleep less have weaker immune systems than those who get between seven and a half to eight and a half hours, research finds.
Or sweat it out. Feeling kind of okay? Head to the gym for a 30-to 60-minute workout. "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. It's best to exercise before your symptoms have peaked, however. If congestion is making it hard to breathe or if you already feel feverish, skip it. (FYI here's how to know whether you should sweat it out or skip your workout.)
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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 (it's also *super* easy to cook with). "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." Take a 1,000-milligram curcumin supplement twice daily for the duration of your cold.
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," Dr. Martin says. You'll get more benefits from extra rest, so take a nap instead.
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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, Dr. Martin says. "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 says. Just be careful: The workout studio is just one place that could make you sick.
Give your nose some TLC. You'll be tempted to blow it vigorously because mucus tends to thicken as a cold progresses, but don't. "If you blow hard, you'll irritate the mucus membrane more," Dr. Martin says. 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.
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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, Dr. Martin says. At best, he says, they're not very effective. At worst, they can cause side effects like 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 nonsedating antihistamine. For a cough, try tea with honey; it can be supereffective at suppressing a cough (these 7 immune-boosting supplements can keep you healthier, too).
Get back to the gym. Restarting your exercise routine can help you kick your cold faster. Stick to cardio, which Dr. Martin says is best at boosting blood flow, oxygenating your tissues, and releasing symptom-relieving endorphins. Just listen to your body and dial back the intensity of your workouts as needed.