Health Care

8 Things Doctors and Nurses Do to Stop a Cold in Its Tracks

Feeling the telltale signs of a cold coming on? Make like a medical pro and rev your body’s defenses.

By Morgan Cutolo

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They give stress the boot
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Your state of mind affects your health, so it’s no surprise that being stressed out can downshift your immunity, making it difficult for your body to fight off a cold. In a landmark study from Ohio State University, researchers found that during exam period, college students produced fewer natural killer cells, which fight tumors and viral infections; they nearly ceased production of immunity-boosting gamma interferon; and their infection-fighting T-cells responded only weakly to test-tube stimulation. What’s more, when you’re under pressure, you’re more likely to adopt unhealthy coping behaviors—such as drinking too much coffee or eating junk food—that further lower your immunity. When you feel a cold coming on, your immune system kicks into high gear to fight it, but stress hinders that process. To counter the effects of stress, doctors try to grab as much shut-eye as they can and make efforts to get a handle on their stress, whether they go for a run, listen to music, meditate. Read more about effective ways to de-stress.

They head off symptoms
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As soon as you feel the inkling of a cold coming on, head to the drugstore for some over-the-counter relief. To help with achiness and soreness, take a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofin. To clear your sinuses and ease symptoms such as a runny nose and watery eyes, look for decongestants, which will shrink swollen blood vessels and nasal tissue so you can breathe. Or combine the two in a product like Extra-strength Tylenol Sinus or Advil Cold and Sinus. If you tend to get side effects from decongestants—trouble sleeping, feeling jittery—try a nasal spray such as Afrin, but use it for no more than three days to prevent dependency. These are clear signs a cold is coming on.

They gargle with salt water
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If you feel your throat starting to get scratchy, head straight to the pantry and grab the salt. Add half a teaspoon of salt to a glass of warm water and gargle twice a day. “The salt draws out excess water in your throat’s tissues, reducing the inflammation, and clears mucous and irritants from the back of the throat,” Philip Hagen, MD, medical editor-in-chief of Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies told Health.com. Can’t stomach the salt? Some evidence suggests that gargling with water alone may help prevent upper respiratory tract infections, according to WebMD. You can also try one of these natural gargles to soothe a sore throat.

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They take zinc
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Taking zinc the second you feel a cold could make a big difference. According to the National Institutes of Health, a 2015 analysis of clinical trials found that oral zinc (lozenges, tablets, syrup) helps to shorten the length of colds when taken within 24 hours after symptoms start. And there’s some evidence that it can reduce the severity of colds as well. It’s not without possible side effects, though, including nausea and other GI symptoms. Also steer clear of the zinc nasal spray as well as intranasal gels or swabs, as they’ve been linked to possible loss of the sense of smell. Here are signs that you may not be getting enough zinc.

They eat clean
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A healthy diet gives your body optimal fuel for all its functions, including fighting off colds. To eat clean, make sure to include protein-packed foods such as beans, fish, and lean meats, and add in plenty of vegetables and fruits, which contain free-radical scavenging antioxidants, plus whole-grain foods such as brown rice. Read more about what to eat when you have a cold; also, watch out for these foods that make a cold worse.

They stay hydrated
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Although there’s no definitive evidence that guzzling water and juice will move your cold along faster, it’s pretty well accepted that staying hydrated helps to unclog and thin your mucus so that you can blow it out more effectively, according to Jean Carstensen, MD, instructor in medicine and pediatrics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Staying hydrated can also help lubricate the throat, so it feels less sore. Water is your best bet, but fresh OJ is also good (it has the added benefit of vitamin C, which a 2013 study showed may help improve symptoms), and some doctors swear by hot ginger tea with lemon. Try these clever ways to get more fluids.

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They take a probiotic
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Taking a probiotic—a type of “good bacteria” that’s like the microorganisms found naturally in the human gut—when you first feel yourself getting a runny nose may reduce the length and severity of your cold. You could get probiotics from certain foods such as yogurt and kimchi, but it’s also available as a dietary supplement. A 2015 research review suggests that probiotics might help to prevent upper respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold, but more studies are needed to confirm the effect.

They get some vitamin D
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Cold season tends to strike during the winter months when people aren’t exposed to the sun as often as during the other seasons, and doctors believe that’s no coincidence. A Japanese study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that supplementing with vitamin D is a powerful weapon against upper respiratory illnesses. In their head-to-head trial of vitamin D versus two anti-viral drugs, vitamin D reduced the risk of flu infection by 50 percent in people who’d been exposed to the virus compared to a reduction of only 8 percent for people who took antivirals. Although some doctors, like John Cannell, MD, suggest popping high-dose vitamin D (50,000 IU) for three days at the first sign of a cold or the flu, the more accepted recommendation is closer to 800 to 1000 IU of vitamin D, as Men’s Health advises, taken as a preventative. Try these tricks to get your daily dose vitamin D after summer ends.

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