How Not To Treat A Cold
The World Wide Web is full of advice – some good, some less so. One subject that seems especially ripe for a new crop of guidance every spring is the common cold: how to treat it, how to cure it, and how to avoid catching it in the first place. Most of these stories are fairly close to accurate, but a dismaying number continue to repeat long discredited ideas about what to do when the dreaded rhinovirus rears its stuffy head.
Consider this my small way of pushing back: a comprehensive guide to all the things you should NOT even consider doing when the sniffles strike.
1. Kill Your Heater
One of the most common misconceptions is that central heat can deliver or increase the strength of a common cold. The logic holds that a heater’s dehumidifying effect can dry out your mucus membranes, thus leaving your body more susceptible to infection and/or worsened symptoms. Not so: our mucosa have evolved over millions of years to handle just about any climate you can throw at them, and dryness has no effect on the strength or duration of colds.
2. Kill Your A/C
And here is the converse myth: that the best way to handle a cold is to “sweat it out” and stay as hot as possible. This one probably traces its origins to the name itself. Somehow, somewhere, a cognitive connection was formed between being cold, and getting a cold, inspiring countless grandmothers to repeat that old saw: “Don’t go out without a jacket, you’ll catch a cold.” In fact, being cold doesn’t make you any more susceptible to a cold, and being hot only adds misery to discomfort.
3. Guzzle Zinc, or Echinacea, or Vitamin C
Nope. Despite a considerable marketing effort put behind these popular OTC cold “remedies,” no conclusive evidence has ever been marshaled to prove once and for all that they do you any good. That said, placebos can be powerful things, so it probably won’t hurt you to believe in the power of the pill if that’s your bag. But it would be a mistake to assume that you can buy a cure at the neighborhood drugstore.
An especially dismal myth about the common cold is that all that sputum, coughing, sweating and misery are doing something good, that your body is trying to get well, and so you should avoid taking any medicine that might relieve the symptoms. This is untrue: you do not need to resort to masochism in the name of healing. All the secondary symptoms associated with the common cold have nothing to do with its prognosis, so by all means take a Tylenol if it gets you through the day.
5. Eat, Already!
No list of cold myths would be complete without one of the best known homilies in medicine: “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” In fact, you should expressly avoid doing either one. Your body does not give you misleading cues: when you’re sick, it’s good to eat, as the human body runs on food. But if you lose your appetite, that’s okay too. Just avoid basing your dietary habits on oft-repeated one-liners that have no apparent basis in fact.
The Waiting Game
The best advice I can give you for handing a cold is also the simplest: wait, drink fluids, tray to stay comfortable, and wait some more. The good news is that you won’t feel the need to run out and attempt every folk remedy in the book. The bad news is that the other popular homily remains as true as ever: there’s just no cure for the common cold.