More than 200 viruses cause the common head cold, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making your chances of avoiding it unlikely. When you come down with the sniffles, expect to suffer from a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, cough and headaches. Although the common cold has no cure, take steps to minimize its symptoms, helping you feel better until the virus leaves your body.
Headache and Body Aches
The symptoms of a cold typically appear two to three days after exposure to the virus. If you experience a headache or mild body aches, take a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, which include aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen. Each person reacts differently to various medications, so take the type that’s most effective for you. Follow dosage instructions on the bottle carefully, particularly in the case of acetaminophen, which can cause liver damage when taken in high dosages.
Congestion, including a runny nose, is the most noticeable sign of a head cold. Get relief by taking an over-the-counter decongestant, and carry a box of tissues with you until the medicine kicks in. Other methods of relief include decongestant nasal sprays and saline nasal drops; however, don’t use these for more than a few days in a row because they can cause chronic rebound inflammation of mucous membranes, according to MayoClinic.com. Adjusting your room’s temperature and humidity can help, too -- keep the room warm, but not hot, and the air humid through the use of a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer to ease congestion.
Cough and Sore Throat
Over-the-counter medication can provide relief from that nagging cough because it suppresses the cough reflex, but be aware of the side effects -- some cough medicines can make you feel dizzy, fatigued or irritable. If your cough is particularly bothersome, such as if it's keeping you up at night, your doctor can prescribe codeine, a narcotic cough suppressant. If it’s a sore throat that’s causing pain, try a saltwater gargle. Mix ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water, gargle and spit it out; the mixture should temporarily relieve your sore throat pain.
Try chicken soup. Generations of parents have spooned chicken soup into their sick children's mouths. Now scientists have put chicken soup to the test, discovering that it does seem to help relieve cold and flu symptoms in two ways. First, it acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the movement of neutrophils -- immune system cells that help your body's response to inflammation. Second, it temporarily speeds the movement of mucus through your nose, helping relieve congestion and limiting the time viruses are in contact with your nasal lining.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamin C was long reported to prevent or cure the common cold, but a study published in 2000 in “Cochrane Database Systematic Review” found that vitamin C had no effect on the frequency of catching a cold. It could, however, slightly reduce the duration of cold symptoms when taken in high doses. Zinc and Echinacea have also been touted as helpful for colds, but MayoClinic.com states that no studies have proved the effectiveness of either supplement. However, a review of studies on zinc published in 2011 in "The Cochrane Library" determined that taking zinc within 24 hours of onset of a cold reduces the symptoms and duration of colds in healthy people.
Because a head cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help you feel better. However, colds can lead to secondary illnesses, including bacterial sinus or ear infections, which can be treated with a doctor’s care and antibiotic prescription. See a doctor if you have a fever of 103 degrees or higher, swollen glands, sever sinus pain or a fever accompanied by sweating, chills and cough with colored mucous. If your cold symptoms last longer than 10 days, call your health care provider to rule out other infections.
- MayoClinic.com: Common Cold
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Common Cold and Runny Nose
- Ohio State Wexner Medical Center: Common Cold
- MedlinePlus: Pain Relievers
- FamilyDoctor.org: Cough Medicine: Understanding Your OTC Options
- Cochrane Database Systematic Review: Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold
Kelsey Casselbury has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Penn State-University Park. She has a long career in print and web media, including serving as a managing editor for a monthly nutrition magazine and food editor for a Maryland lifestyle publication. She also owns an Etsy shop selling custom invitations and prints.