How to treat a cold without drugs

Medicines won’t heal a winter virus faster – and some will even prolong it. But the best remedies don’t need a trip to the chemist, says Kate Hilpern

The average adult gets two to five colds a year. Children suffer the worst, with seven to 10 a year. The news today is that scientists may in the near future be able to cure colds and other viruses. But for now, only the immune system can cure a cold and in most cases, it takes four to seven days. Conventional medicines might provide relief from symptoms, but don’t work against the virus or help our immune system throw off the infection. Some don’t even do that. Standard cough medicines, for instance, have been found to be no better than placebo. Some doctors say suppressing coughs can be a bad thing since they are nature’s way of getting rid of respiratory debris. The good news is, you can take action to help your cold without even going out.

Inhale steam

“The common cold is a collection of different viruses and your immune system’s response to them causes the symptoms of inflamed nasal passage and lining of the sinuses – which causes sneezing, runny nose and sore eyes,” explains Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners. “The best way to reduce this inflammation is to keep the nasal passages clear. Steam is wonderful at achieving this.”

Put a towel over your head and inhale steam from a bowl of boiling water, ideally using drops of a plant oil such as eucalyptus or olbas oil for added relief. “Or take a nice hot shower with plenty of steam or sit in a really steamy bathroom – particularly good for children,” adds Professor Field.

Have a hot drink

Hot drinks work wonders, says Professor Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Research Centre at Cardiff University. One study found the effects of a hot fruit drink on nasal airflow and common cold and flu symptoms were surprisingly positive. “The hot drink provided immediate and sustained relief from symptoms of runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness and tiredness,” he says.

Drinks with slightly bitter flavours are particularly beneficial. Many doctors suggest hot water with honey (a mild antiseptic), grated ginger (anti-inflammatory) and fresh lemon (tastes nice but the claim that vitamin C can cure colds is still unproven).

Eat chicken soup – or some curry

The brothy goodness of home-made soup has everything going for it, particularly if it’s chicken. It flushes out the nasal passages with its aromatic steaming and offers hydration and comfort.

There are also claims that chicken has anti-viral properties, particularly if the skin is left in, and in 2000, scientists at the University of Nebraska Medical Centre in Omaha found that some components of chicken soup inhibit neutrophil migration, which may have an anti-inflammatory effect that could perhaps lead to a temporary easing of the symptoms of illness.

A cold is a good excuse for a hot curry, says Professor Eccles. “Spicy food and drink promotes salivation and airway mucus secretions that soothe coughs and sore throats,” he explains.

Take it easy

Take one or preferably two days away from the office, insists Dr Beata O’Donoghue, sleep consultant at the London Clinic. You will save others from your germs and a cold can be the body’s way of telling us to take a break. She says: “Listen to your body. We do not repair ourselves during wakefulness, but during sleep.” Professor Field agrees: “With any virus that involves inflammation, even light exercise can be harmful, especially as we get older.”

Drink water

“When the body is fighting infection, it becomes dehydrated,” says Dr Rob Hicks, GP and author of Old-fashioned Remedies From Arsenic to Gin. “You need plenty of fluids.” Provided it’s not alcohol anything palatable is acceptable, says Hicks. Others disagree. Soft drinks contain high levels of sugar, which means they are absorbed much more slowly than water so they don’t hydrate the body as quickly. Really high-sugar drinks cause a rapid rise in blood sugar level, followed by a sudden dip, making you feel worse.

By the time you feel thirsty, dehydration has set in – so drink regularly.

Raid your store cupboard

“Nutrients with potential immune-boosting properties include vitamin A (in eggs, milk and orange fruit and vegetables such as carrots and apricots), vitamin E (nuts, grains, vegetable oils and wheatgerm) and selenium (in brazil nuts, seafood, meat, and poultry),” says Sara Stanner of the Nutrition Society. And try to eat as much garlic as possible because of its antimicrobial action.

De-stress

Everyday life pressures can make you more susceptible, says Professor Eccles: “Experiments on volunteers show they are more likely to become infected if they have recently suffered problems.” Stress has long been associated with the suppression of general resistance to infection.

Wrap up warm

“Granny was right as far as wrapping up warm is concerned, in the prevention of colds,” says Dr Rob Hicks. “When the nostrils get cold, the immune system functions less efficiently. And if your temperature falls, your immune system is not as efficient.”



You could also try...

* Blowing your nose regularly rather than sniffing the mucus back into your head. Ideally, press a finger over one nostril while you blow gently to clear the other.

* Gargling can moisten a sore throat to bring temporary relief. Try a teaspoon of salt dissolved in warm water, four times daily. Or use honey, popular in folk medicine.

* Sleeping with an extra pillow will help with the drainage of nasal passages.

Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living