I’ve had the cold a lot in my life. More than most, I’d say. I hate being sick, which is why I’ve spent a fair bit of effort to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I also hate most cold remedies because of how they make me feel.
If you care to know how the cold starts and progresses, commoncold.org has some good info. But basically the virus enters your nasal membranes and reproduces, and everything that comes after that relates to how your body reacts. Generally, though, it starts with congestion and mucus. I’m no expert, but my theory is that abnormally thick mucus becomes host to bacteria and other junk that, if unattended, wind up in your throat (causing a sore throat) and eventually your chest (causing a cough). I cannot abide a sore throat, so my approach is to deal with the mucus, make my throat inhospitable to bacteria and take supplements that boost your immune system.
I am not a doctor, so take this advice in the proper spirit. What works for me may not work for you.
First, the secret weapon
If you’ve never heard of andrographis paniculata, you’re not alone. I hadn’t heard of it either until I ran across it in my research. But after using it religiously for five years now, I can tell you it is absolutely legit. Science supports this claim. Take two per day as soon as symptoms appear and keep trucking, and I can almost promise a short run of the cold. It’s a tad hard to find, but it’s easily available online and in many natural food stores. It tastes and smells like lawn clippings, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work like a champ. I always have some on hand so I’m ready if I get the sniffles and that scratchy feeling in my throat that almost certainly means a cold is coming.
Then, the antibacterial mouthwash
The way I see it, gravity works on that mucus and irritates your throat when it gets full of bacteria and/or particulates. The more inhospitable you make that area to bacteria, the better.
Gargling early and often with Listerine or any generic equivalent really helps prevent sore throats and, yes, coughing. It’s mostly ethyl alcohol, so you can overdo it, but the nice thing about Listerine vs. stuff like Crest Pro-Health (also antibacterial) is that it gargles better, with not many bubbles.
If you don’t have, can’t stand, or can’t get Listerine, mix half a teaspoon of iodized salt with a cup of fairly hot water and gargle it a little at a time until it’s gone. Repeat often. Salt obviously retards microbial growth, and it’s way better than doing nothing.
Finally, the mucus
As I noted, thick mucus is the enemy. By far, the best way to thin mucus and flush it out of you is with a saline nasal rinse. Some people like Neti pots but I prefer something with a little more oomph, like the NeilMed Sinus Rinse, available just about everywhere. Once you burn through the included packets, mix half salt, half baking soda and mix a teaspoon of that with a cup of fairly warm water. When you have a full-on cold, you can’t overdo the rinsing. It works well and feels good once you get used to it—just make sure to close off your throat (like you’re about to say the letter “K” but don’t finish). They recommend replacing the bottle often, but it’s just plastic. Keep it clean, maybe run some isopropyl alcohol through it every now and then, and you’re good to go.
The other thing you can and should do to deal with mucus is get something like Mucinex, which is just a brand name of guaifenisin. Multi-symptom cold stuff almost never has more than 200 mg of guaifenisin, so look for something with 400 mg or more (usually called “mucus relief” or the like) and take one every four hours or so with a ton of water. That will keep it thin. You’ll blow your nose a lot, but that’s a good thing right now. Thinner mucus is easier to clear so there’s less chance you’ll force it up into your ears. That’s bad.
The science on zinc is pretty inconclusive, but it does seem to reduce the duration by a day or so. I’ll get the store brand of Cold-Eeze and power through a dozen or so lozenges in the first couple days, but have had mixed results overall.
I take 1,000 mg of vitamin C at the first sign of a cold and keep going with it until I’m in the clear. The science on vitamin C for colds is sketchy at best, however many commercial products like Emergen-C and Airborne are just super expensive, fruity versions of good old ascorbic acid. You’ll get a bigger dose for less with ordinary tablets, but your mileage may vary either way. If you have it around, it doesn’t hurt but it can act as a diuretic so don’t be surprised if you have a few extra trips to the bathroom.
I honestly haven’t tried some of the other immune supplements, but if something works wonders for you, be sure to leave a comment.