You feel a drip on the tip of your nose, a tingle in the back of your throat and you inexplicably sneeze. Yes, you’re coming down with a common cold. So what could have you done to prevent this and is there any way you can stop this freight train of phlegm in its tracks? We have taken the data from the most recent review on common cold preventative measures and treatments and summarised it simply for you below (1). Our pleasure.
Based on great quality studies
Physical barriers: Wearing gloves, using hand sanitiser, wearing a face mask etcetera, etcetera. These are the tedious ways to stop a common cold, but they quite simply work. There have been many different studies, on slightly different physical interventions, but the vast, vast majority found these strategies to decrease the odds of developing a common cold. We can’t give you an exact figure on the percent reduced risk, but we can be certain that these strategies help.
Based on poor to moderate quality studies
Zinc supplementation: 36% fewer colds are developed by those that take zinc and overall, zinc supplementation results in 0.5-1.4 fewer colds per year. The only studies that exist are in children, but there is no reason why this shouldn’t apply to adults.
Probiotics: Probiotics appear to give you 42% less chance of having more than one common cold per year. Yay!
Exercise: Those that performed 5 x 45 minutes of moderate-intense exercise sessions weekly, reported half the number of colds compared to those who did less exercise. Do the hard work and get sick less frequently!
Gargling water regularly: Those that gargled water 3 times daily for 15 seconds, had 45% less colds than those that did no gargle water. Who’d have thought? Not me!
Garlic supplement: In a 90 day period, there were ~60% less people who developed colds when taking a garlic pill. Although, this study did not account for bad breath!
Ginseng, homeopathy, vitamin C, echinacea, vitamin D: All found to have no effect whatsoever on preventing the common cold.
Sadly, there is no pharmacological treatment that decreases common cold duration. Although, not scientifically backed, the above preventative interventions could well work. Why not try them?
Decongestants, vapour rubs, paracetamol, over the counter cough medicines: All found to have modest effects on the symptoms they are targeted at, but not much else. For example, paracetamol for pain, decongestants for congestion.
Antibiotics, antihistamines: Put simply, they do not work and expose patients to unnecessary risks. If you have a cold, don’t demand antibiotics from your Doctor! Please, pretty please.
Is it healthful?
Very healthful: Physical measures – wash the hands, wear a mask. We’re near certain that consistently doing this will decrease the risk of getting a cold.
Moderately healthful: In order of healthfulness: garlic pills, regular exercise, frequently gargling water, probiotics and zinc all decrease the odds of getting a common cold. The data is, however, based on moderate quality evidence, so we can’t say this with absolute certainty.
Unhealthful: Ginseng, homeopathy, vitamin C, echinacea and vitamin D – they don’t work, so don’t bother. Can’t argue with science.
Nothing will decrease common cold duration.
Slightly healthful: Decongestants, vapour rubs, paracetamol and over the counter cough medicines slightly decrease the symptoms they target.
Unhealthful: Antibiotics and antihistamines.
I hope this has been healthful.