10 ways to combat the common cold

If you've started to feel under the weather as the temperature drops across Britain, you're not alone. Try one of these remedies

Common cold
The most common symptoms of a cold are a cough, a scratchy throat and a very runny nose Credit: Getty

While there’s no proven way to get rid of a cold completely, there are a number of home remedies that will help you to manage the symptoms and start to feel better. 

Spray to breathe

The worst symptom of a cold is, without doubt, the bunged-up nose. “It is caused by swollen veins inside the nostrils, and a nasal spray will contract the congested veins to open up your nose so you can breathe,” says Professor Ronald Eccles, former director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University. “The sprays should contain the active ingredients xylometazoline or oxymetazoline, and once squirted up each nostril, will work in two to three minutes and give you relief for eight hours. It should be sprayed before sleep.”

Professor Eccles particularly recommends Boots Dual Defence nasal spray, shown in clinical trials to reduce symptoms and duration of a cold, and Vicks First Defence nasal spray. “It makes the nose slightly acidic,” he says, “which knocks out the common cold virus before it can take.”

Take your meds with a double espresso

A common cold means you’re not ill ill, but you still feel tired and sluggish. The cure? Professor Eccles advises taking  your painkillers – ibuprofen, aspirin or paracetamol – in the morning with a double shot of espresso to overcome the weariness and malaise. “In the evenings, it’s better to take cold and flu medicine that has the older antihistamines - called first-generation antihistamines – such as diphenhydramine (in Benadryl) and chlorphenamine (in Sudafed Plus), which make you drowsy and help you sleep.”

A double shot of espresso can work wonders when you have a cold Credit: Getty

Add spices to breakfast

“Antioxidants play an important part in boosting immunity and helping to reduce inflammation,” says nutritional therapist, Eve Kalinik.  It’s worth starting the day healthily, “with a breakfast of scrambled eggs with cumin, garlic, turmeric and chilli as the spices contain powerful antioxidants,” she says.

Kalinik also takes 30mg of zinc at the first signs of a sniffle, as some studies have found that zinc lozenges can reduce the duration and number of upper respiratory infections.  “Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are good sources of zinc,” says Kalinik. “Sprinkle them on a salad or just eat a handful instead.”

Exercise if you can

“Exercise may temporarily relieve nasal congestion, and is the best natural, nasal decongestant, if you aren’t seriously unwell and don’t have a fever,” says Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and Clinical Consultant to Patient.info. “However, colds often come with muscle aches, so take it more gently than usual.” Exercising with a fever, a chesty cough, or any breathing difficulties, is however, not such a good idea. “Ultimately, you have to listen to your body,” adds Dr Jarvis. 

Sip on a sugary sweet cordial

“Have a blackcurrant and orange cordial, and make it steaming hot, and sip it throughout the day,” says Professor Eccles. He cites a 2012 study, published in Pulmonary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, that provided the first empirical evidence that sweet taste can suppress cough sensitivity. “The sweetness activates the reward centre in our brain – releasing opioids – which links to the cough centre and reduces coughing.”

Go big on facial steams and hot showers

“Steam can help loosen the mucus in your nasal passages, improving congestion,” says Dr Lindsay Browning, psychologist, neuroscientist and sleep expert. “The easiest way to do this is to fill your sink with warm water. Place a towel over your head, to trap the vapour and lean over the sink. As the steam builds, inhale deeply. A hot shower or bath before bed can also provide some temporary relief from congestion by thinning out mucus.”

Stock up on good tissues

When your nose streams, it might be tempting to grab anything to hand – tea-towel, sleeve, a sheet of kitchen roll. Instead “buy lots of boxes of tissues with balsam so you’ve got one in every room,” says Professor Eccles. “If it’s too late and you’ve done the damage, put Vaseline under the nose to soothe the irritation.”  

Keep the fluids flowing

“It’s important to prevent dehydration by drinking fluids regularly, as this helps your nose and mouth eliminate bacteria and viruses when coughing, sneezing and breathing,” says Abbas Kanani, pharmacist at Chemist Click online pharmacy. “Warm water with lemon and honey can soothe sore throats and gives the body an antioxidant boost. Gargling with salt water is an effective remedy for killing bacteria too, as it works well for loosening mucus and easing pain. Add one teaspoon to a cup of water and gargle the entire cup.”

Cold-proof your bedroom

There’s nothing like an irritating cough or blocked up nose to keep you up all night. “If you’re coughing, propping yourself up on a few pillows so your head is more upright may provide some relief, because it reduces the chance of mucus dripping down the back of your throat, which can irritate your throat and lead to coughing,” says Dr Jarvis. “A menthol rub on your chest and neck may also relieve nasal congestion while you’re lying down, and could help you sleep better.”

Feed your cold . . . with soup

“Fill your soup with vegetables that have high levels of vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc to give your immune system a helping hand,” says nutritionist Shona Wilkinson. “Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and other veg like carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers are good sources of beta-carotene, which the body converts into retinol or vitamin A.  The classic chicken soup might be a bit of a cliché, but when made with plenty of vegetables like onions, carrots and garlic, it can be a great source of phytonutrients, which are key for a functioning immune system.” 

What do you do to make yourself feel better when you’ve caught a cold? Do you have any home remedies you swear by? Tell us  in the comments section below