But do any of them really work? Here’s the expert guide to kicking that cold to the kerb – and, even better, not getting ill in the first place.
Slurp chicken soup
It may sound like an old wives’ tale, but there is evidence that chicken soup can help when you’re ill – and not just because it’s easy to swallow.
American researchers found that carnosine, a compound found in chicken, can help mobilise the immune system. And a study by Dr Stephen Rennard at the University of Nebraska found it reduced the movement of a type of white blood cell, possibly helping reduce inflammation and cold symptoms.
And what about that other fail-safe of loading up on vitamin C, as a supplement or via a large glass of orange juice? It’s been studied for years as a cold remedy, but there’s still little conclusive evidence that vitamin C works, according to Professor John Oxford, a virologist at Queen Mary University of London.
“However, vitamin C is important in healing, so it definitely won’t hurt,” says Dr Lizzie Kershaw-Yates, a GP with The Online Clinic.
Don’t carry on as normal
“It’s a myth that you can ‘run off’ a cold,” says Dr Kershaw-Yates. When it comes to exercise, one rule of thumb is that if your cold symptoms are limited to above the neck – so sneezing, runny nose, sore throat – you’re still fine to hit the gym.
However, if you have any symptoms below the neck, such as a congested chest, hacking cough or aching muscles, you should give it a miss.
That said, it may be worth dialling your workout back, even if it’s just sniffles you’ve got.
Regular exercise is good for boosting immunity – with one study suggesting people who do a moderate 20-minute workout five days a week get half as many colds as those who do little or no exercise – but very strenuous exercise temporarily stresses your immune system.
“You risk delaying your recovery by overdoing it when you’re ill, says Dr Kershaw-Yates. “You need to rest, especially as you often don’t sleep well with a cold,” she adds.
Don’t share a bed with your other half if one of you is ill, advises Professor Oxford. “If you can, sleep in another room, as viruses can contaminate pillows and bedding.”
At work, you may want to cover your mouth and nose even if a coughing colleague is sitting at the other end of the office.
In 2014, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that germ-carrying droplets can travel further than experts previously thought – up to 8m for a sneeze and 6m from a cough.
Sneeze into your elbow
According to Professor Oxford, viruses are often spread by contact with contaminated surfaces on which infectious particles from someone’s sneeze or cough have settled (urgh!).
“Our research suggests viruses can survive on hard surfaces, such as a door knob or child’s toy, for 24 hours at the temperature we tend to keep our houses in winter,” he says.
Good hand hygiene is key. Get into the habit of coughing or sneezing into the crook of your elbow rather than into your hands.
“No one is going to touch you by the elbow, whereas they might shake your hand. It also means you won’t transfer any germs to any surfaces you touch,” he adds.
Keep your feet cosy
It seems there’s some truth in the idea that you can catch a cold just from being cold.
A study by the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University asked volunteers to sit with their feet in cold water for 20 minutes. They found that these people were more likely to catch a cold in the next few days than the control group who’d sat with their feet in an empty bowl.
It’s thought that getting cold feet means your overall body temperature drops – and when you’re cold, the blood vessels inside your nose constrict, meaning there are fewer immune cells circulating there to fend off any lurking cold bugs.
In 2015, Yale University researchers reported that if the temperature inside the nose drops by five degrees, the immune system doesn’t work as well. Get those slipper socks on, pronto!
Don’t waste money on cough syrup
Expensive cough syrups and throat sweets aren’t worth their price tags. Instead, Dr Kershaw-Yates says: “Research has shown honey and hot water is one of the best things for a cough. The honey is soothing and has antiseptic properties, while the hot liquid can help get mucus moving.
You could get the same effect from something you already have in your kitchen cupboard as from a cough syrup.”
And if you’ve ever been told to avoid milk when you have a cold because it can make a build-up of phlegm worse, it’s a myth. Last year, lung experts from Royal Brompton Hospital in London reviewed the evidence and concluded there was no proof at all that milk affected mucus production.
In fact, they pointed out that cutting out dairy when you’re ill could do more harm than good, as milk is such a rich source of vitamins and minerals.
The flu jab can’t give you flu
“It’s a common misconception that you can catch flu from the flu jab.
It’s just not possible,” says Professor Oxford. Although vaccines are made from the virus they protect against, the adult flu vaccine isn’t a “live” vaccine. If you have children, one of the best things you can do for your own health, as much as theirs, is to make sure they have the flu vaccine, he adds.
“Children are what we call ‘super-spreaders’ because they tend to be less fussed about hygiene and are more likely to come into contact with the virus because they’re in close contact with a lot of other children.”
Children between the ages of two and 10 receive the flu vaccination on the NHS.
This year, Boots is extending its Winter Flu Jab service offering it to children between the ages of 10 and 15, as well as adults, from £12.99, in selected stores.
See you in the queue!
- Archive Sources: American Journal of Therapeutics, British Journal of Sports Medicine
- Visit Theonlineclinic.co.uk
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