Welcome to cold and flu season! Snotty noses, chapped lips, raspy throats…you’ve succumbed. You’re swimming in a pool of snot and tears. How do you get out with as much dignity intact as possible?
Luckily, colds usually go away on their own in about a week. However, this also means that it looks like whatever remedies you try have worked, whether it’s a $30 bottle of echinacea, chicken soup or jumping over a Pomeranian every hour singing Bad Romance in Russian. So anecdotes won’t help you work out what things are actually worth buying!
What science says works
Painkillers – Stave off your headache with a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) such as ibuprofen (Nurofen). Since they’re anti-inflammatory, they’ll also help relieve sore throats. Paracetamol and codeine can help too with the pain, but since they aren’t anti-inflammatory they won’t be as effective.
Decongestants – These won’t help you get better faster, but they’ll make the worst of it easier to bear. In particular, pseudoephedrine (the stuff you need to give your license details for) decreases swelling, mucus production and general snottiness. However, it can have strong side effects which can knock you on your butt if you’re unlucky. On the other hand, phenylephrine has not been shown to work.
Things that aren’t worth the price
Echinacea – Overall, studies have found that it’s no better than a placebo. Don’t waste your money.
Vitamin C – There isn’t much evidence for vitamin C doing anything to prevent or treat colds.
Antibiotics – These are sometimes prescribed for dealing with complications of colds like sinus infections, but since a straightforward cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t help.
Zinc – There’s some evidence that zinc supplements might help reduce symptoms, but it’s far from confirmed. Zinc sprays can lead to permanent loss of smell, so avoid those!
Anything else that claims to help treat or prevent colds (especially if it says “homeopathic”).
Things that make you feel better and don’t cost much
Hot drinks – Chicken soup or tea, or even just hot water will help clear you sinuses and loosen phlegm.
Neti pot – I haven’t tried this yet, but if your sinuses are clogged, rinsing them out may be worth a try.
Lotion tissues – Lotion-coated tissues aren’t very exciting normally, but they’re a godsend when you’re sniffly and normal tissues feel like sandpaper. Keep your empty box on hand as a disposable rubbish bin for your old tissues!
Overnight Vaseline – Lotion up your nose overnight to help your chapped skin recover.
Menthol/eucalyptus vapours – These haven’t been found to actually decrease congestion, and in fact might even make it worse, but they can trick your brain into thinking you’re breathing freely… which is half the battle, really.
Heat pack – You can buy these, or make them at home very cheaply with raw rice or wheat. I’m addicted to my homemade microwaveable wheat bag, but for an emergency heat pack, just pour some rice into a sock and tie off the end.
And of course, get lots of rest, and drink lots of water!