Cold Remedy Fact and Fiction

At the first sign of a cold, many of us turn to chicken noodle soup, tea, Echinacea and other home remedies – but do any of them really work? Dan Allan, M.D., separates fact from fiction when it comes to popular cold remedies.

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CLEVELAND – There’s nothing like a cold to really get you down in the middle of winter. Many of us turn to chicken noodle soup for relief, but does it really work?

According to Dan Allan, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, chicken noodle soup won’t prevent a cold, or even cure it, but it can help a person feel better.

“I think it does help relieve symptoms,” he said. “Warm liquids tend to soothe your throat, plus it’s always good to have hydration. There’s obviously some nutrition in there, some salt, and some nutrients to help you feel a little bit better.”

Other home remedies that people commonly use to tame a cold include tea with honey, echinacea, and zinc lozenges.

Dr. Allan said while none of these approaches will provide a substantial benefit, they can help make cold symptoms a little easier to endure.

He said some people swear by putting vapor ointment on the feet at night to treat a cough, but there is no scientific research to prove that this does anything more than distract your mind from how you’re feeling.

Dr. Allan said trying home remedies for colds is usually harmless, but there is one approach that should be avoided – which is antibiotics.

He said antibiotics are specific to bacteria, and the vast majority of colds are the result of a viral infection. Taking unnecessary antibiotics can create side effects, resistance, and drug-resistant bacteria which can ultimately do more harm than good.

Dr. Allan said it’s not uncommon for pesky upper respiratory viruses to hang on for weeks, so patience is sometimes is the best medicine for a cold.

“Sometimes if people are sick for more than a week or two they think they need an antibiotic and that isn’t necessarily the case,” he said. “Often times, it just needs more time.”

There is one exception however. Dr. Allan said if a cold gets worse after 7-20 days or if a person starts to experience new symptoms, it’s possible that the cold has developed into a secondary complication – such as a sinus or lower respiratory infection, which does need antibiotics.

He said it’s best to call a doctor and get checked out if cold symptoms become worse, instead of better, over time.

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