Stop a Cold

6 Doctor-Tested Ways to Keep a Cold Away
Woman with handkerchief

In the United States, most adults can expect to get at least two colds between September and March. Experts aren't certain why, but they believe it's because cold viruses survive best in cold, dry weather.

What's the best way not to get sick? Well, you can't keep the cold viruses from being all around you. But you can mount a series of defenses strong enough that they can't get to you. Here are the six top doctor-tested ways to keep colds away.

1. Fight off Colds by Embracing Your Inner Germophobe

Doctors and other medical professionals, who are on the front lines in the war against colds, have discovered ingenious ways to avoid touching hard surfaces that many other people have also touched (leaving behind cold viruses that can live for up to 24 hours). They open doors with their forearms, for instance, and push elevator buttons with their knuckles.

Train yourself to think in terms of public surfaces, which means anything other people touch. Yes, the handles of shopping carts are germ breeding grounds. But watch out for your own steering wheel as well, if there are several drivers in your family. Doorknobs and toilet seat lids are obvious concerns, and be alert for anything you touch or pick up, including the backs of chairs, the handles of suitcases, the books you share with friends. Can't remember where your hands have been in the last hour? Solve the problem by washing them frequently, especially after you've been in public locations. Carry disinfectant wipes to wipe down surfaces you have to touch and hand sanitizer for when you can't get to a sink.

Fight off Colds by Making Your Face off-Limits to Hands

Of the more than 200 viruses that cause the common cold, the majority are a type called rhinoviruses, the root of which is rhino, which means nose. Virus particles must make it into the mucous membranes lining the nose in order to cause infection; the nasopharynx -- where the nose meets the mouth -- is the "sweet spot" for these viruses. If they can reach this spot, it's very likely you'll get sick; if you prevent them from getting there, you won't. And a virus deposited at the base of the nose can easily be inhaled higher up into the nose. Virus particles can't easily reach the nose on their own, since they don't stay airborne for long; they need your hands to transport them there. Therefore, if your hands don't touch your mouth or nose, the virus has no way to hitchhike a ride.

One more thing most people don't realize: The eyes are connected directly to the nasal passages via the tear ducts. According to one humorous poster displayed in many doctors' offices, we're much more likely to catch a cold from putting an infected person's water glass in the sink and then wiping our eyes than we are from drinking from the glass itself. Keep your hands away from your nose and eyes, and you'll greatly reduce your chances of catching a cold.

Fight off Colds by Being Wary of the Sneeze

It may look funny -- even a tad uncouth -- when you see someone sneeze into the crook of their elbow, but they're doing you an enormous favor. Colds are spread by physical contact with tiny particles of virus, and when you sneeze, you send droplets of virus-filled mucous raining down onto any handy surface, including your hand if you've used it to cover your mouth. So do everyone, including yourself, a favor by training yourself and your family in the art of the elbow sneeze. As of January 2013, both the Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control have introduced campaigns to teach people to carry tissues at all times, or to sneeze into their elbows to reduce the transmission of both colds and flu. (If you do use a tissue, make sure to dispose of it promptly. One study found that cold germs can live for several hours on tissues and other porous surfaces.)

Fight off Colds With Immune-Boosting Sleep

Researchers know something night owls just can't seem to accept: Those who cheat themselves of sleep are more likely to get sick. The reason? While you sleep, your body recharges your immune system, so it's better equipped to fight off a cold. It's a difficult causal link to establish, but one small study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who slept fewer than seven hours a night were three times more likely to develop a cold when exposed to a virus than those who slept eight or more hours per night. Experts don't know exactly how sleep protects you from getting a cold, but there's evidence that sleep boosts immune function by increasing the number of "killer cells," which attack viruses. So if you're among the 50 to 70 million people who the CDC estimates suffer from sleep problems, get help to get healthy.

Fight off Colds by Hydrating to Stay Healthy

When the mucous membranes in the nose and throat are moist, they're better equipped to fight germs. The best way to ensure moist nasal tissues? Be vigilant about staying well hydrated by drinking four to eight glasses of water throughout the day. For the same reason, many doctors recommend nasal mists and saline nasal sprays at the first sign of a cold. In some studies, they've been found to be effective in boosting the body's natural system of germ eradication, which works to flush germs from your nose.

Nasal membranes dry out even more easily in dry winter air, making them more susceptible to germs, which is one reason experts say we get most colds and flu during the winter. Drinking herbal tea is one good way to keep your protective mucous membranes working; the heat triggers your nasal passages to release moisture, and inhaling the steam bathes the tissues in moisture.

Fight off Colds With Vitamin D

It's natural at this time of year to want to arm your immune system with some of the many vitamins and supplements that are touted as having immune-boosting properties. Unfortunately, most of them don't work. There is one simple and inexpensive vitamin that's proven to boost immune function, though: vitamin D. According to a 2010 study of schoolchildren published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, taking just 1,200 IUs (international units) of vitamin D cut their rate of getting influenza A by almost half.

Studies show that most adults don't get enough of this nutrient from their diet alone. Experts don't yet know exactly how vitamin D protects against colds and flu, but numerous studies show a direct association between low blood levels of vitamin D and frequency of infection. Other research supports the idea that vitamin D boosts immune function in general.

How to know if you might need extra D? Ask yourself if you drink a lot of vitamin-D-fortified milk (one of the only food sources of this nutrient), live in the south, and spend at least 15 minutes a day outside in direct sunlight without sunscreen. (Remember, north of the 37th parallel, which runs just south of San Francisco in the west and just south of Richmond, Virginia, in the east, the sunlight simply isn't strong enough to trigger vitamin D production at all during the winter months.)

If not, chances are you're D-deficient. It's easy to have the level of vitamin D in your blood checked via a blood test. But a safer approach may be to take a vitamin D supplement no matter what, since there aren't any negative side effects to worry about unless you take a huge amount. The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for children and adults is 600 IUs (international units) daily; the RDA for those aged 71 and older is 800 IUs. Those with documented low levels may need to take higher doses. It's best to take it in the form of vitamin D-3, which is most easily absorbed.

over 1 year ago, said...

Valuable information we can all use on a dailyu basis. Thank You: Valuable information we can all use on a dailyu basis. Thank You: Hide

over 1 year ago, said...

THANK YOU! GREAT INFORMATION I WILL TRY TO IMPLIMENT INTO MY ROUTINE! THANK YOU! GREAT INFORMATION I WILL TRY TO IMPLIMENT INTO MY ROUTINE! Hide

over 2 years ago, said...

Great reminders just in time for the "cold season"! Mom (rip) taught me so many of these, particularly touching public things and sneeze/cough into the elbow. Other comments have been interesting, too. I also use my Neti Pot to clean out sinuses and also irrigates nasal passages. Been decades since I had a cold. Great reminders just in time for the "cold season"! Mom (rip) taught me so many of these, particularly touching public things and sneeze/cough into the elbow. Other comments have been interesting, too. I also use my Neti Pot to clean out sinuses and also irrigates nasal passages. Been decades since I had a cold. Hide

over 2 years ago, said...

I am experiencing my first heavy cold in years. I found that the information on taking Vitamin D-3 600 IUs to be quite helpful. I have never had any faith in taking supplements of any kind for any reason. Thanks I am experiencing my first heavy cold in years. I found that the information on taking Vitamin D-3 600 IUs to be quite helpful. I have never had any faith in taking supplements of any kind for any reason. Thanks Hide

over 2 years ago, said...

The reminder about touching "public" stuff...and washing your hands... Show more The reminder about touching "public" stuff...and washing your hands... Hide

over 2 years ago, said...

In particular, the comments about germs carried through touching hands to eyes! In particular, the comments about germs carried through touching hands to eyes! Hide

about 3 years ago, said...

The article brought together a number of different things that might be done to avoid colds, making it easier to see what would be the most necessary and effective things to concentrate on for any one person. Good examples. The article brought together a number of different things that might be done to avoid colds, making it easier to see what would be the most necessary and effective things to concentrate on for any one person. Good examples. Hide

about 3 years ago, said...

My husband and I are 82 and 77 and go out shopping or to eat at least three times a week. I know we haven't had a cold for at least 3 years. We both wash our hands as soon as we walk in the door, and I wear gloves when I go out. I remember reading something about when people started wearing white gloves to prevent the spread of disease. Seems like it around the time they discovered penicillian or to prevent the spead of some major outbreak. Why can't we all wear gloves when we go out? ... Show more My husband and I are 82 and 77 and go out shopping or to eat at least three times a week. I know we haven't had a cold for at least 3 years. We both wash our hands as soon as we walk in the door, and I wear gloves when I go out. I remember reading something about when people started wearing white gloves to prevent the spread of disease. Seems like it around the time they discovered penicillian or to prevent the spead of some major outbreak. Why can't we all wear gloves when we go out? I love to wear my tight leather gloves or gloves that have leather where I touch the steering wheel. I have never seen that suggestion ever! Oh I heard that any "cold" in the summer time is really an allergy. I kind of think that is true! Good health to everyone. Hide

about 3 years ago, said...

Watching what you touch and where you place your hands, i.e. near eyes, nose and mouth. Wash up frequently. Watching what you touch and where you place your hands, i.e. near eyes, nose and mouth. Wash up frequently. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

Mix pepper and Turmeric powder with milk, drink every night to avoid cold. Mix pepper and Turmeric powder with milk, drink every night to avoid cold. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

The emphasis is on keeping the nose and thereabouts clear. If you sneeze, cough, find yourself in the presence of sneezers/coughers, go ahead blow the nose as a start, gargle to get deeper & if my experience counts,that cold will give you a miss. The input of fresh fruit/vegetable is a fine boost, use of garlic, raw onion, peppers, cayenne especially ar goof boosters. Multivitamins on a daily basis, a dose of sunshine (even with your low sun) is Vitamin D for free, all help boost system so... Show more The emphasis is on keeping the nose and thereabouts clear. If you sneeze, cough, find yourself in the presence of sneezers/coughers, go ahead blow the nose as a start, gargle to get deeper & if my experience counts,that cold will give you a miss. The input of fresh fruit/vegetable is a fine boost, use of garlic, raw onion, peppers, cayenne especially ar goof boosters. Multivitamins on a daily basis, a dose of sunshine (even with your low sun) is Vitamin D for free, all help boost system so keeping it all prepared for the intruder! Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

I couldn't avoid my latest cold, as I was in close proximity with someone else that I go grocery shopping with, but...but this cold has(compared to the two previous ones) been *gentle*. Oh, it makes it's presence known, but overall, it's easy to cope with. Perhaps it's the large quantity of berries(and cherries) together with a generous amount of veggies. I don't smoke that much(and I only puff cigarettes, instead of inhaling them in the typical way), and never in doors. On the avarage, I... Show more I couldn't avoid my latest cold, as I was in close proximity with someone else that I go grocery shopping with, but...but this cold has(compared to the two previous ones) been *gentle*. Oh, it makes it's presence known, but overall, it's easy to cope with. Perhaps it's the large quantity of berries(and cherries) together with a generous amount of veggies. I don't smoke that much(and I only puff cigarettes, instead of inhaling them in the typical way), and never in doors. On the avarage, I receive about 7 hours of sleep. And for it, a cold that I can live with, so adequate sleep & nutrition may be the reason, or maybe this particular strain of virus wasn't as nasty. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

I live in India and i have traveled to the US in DEC-Feb periods. I am amazed to find so many people suffering from cold. This is more shocking because US is a cool country by standard of Asia and so people should be actually immune to cold than people like me who live in hot/warm climate but r forced for some reason to come to USA during winter. I must say that while travelling to USA and Canada besides Europe and Japan in extreme winter, I did not suffer from any cold/flu/fever/cough etc.... Show more I live in India and i have traveled to the US in DEC-Feb periods. I am amazed to find so many people suffering from cold. This is more shocking because US is a cool country by standard of Asia and so people should be actually immune to cold than people like me who live in hot/warm climate but r forced for some reason to come to USA during winter. I must say that while travelling to USA and Canada besides Europe and Japan in extreme winter, I did not suffer from any cold/flu/fever/cough etc. There could be several reasons but one of them is that immunity is boosted probably by the fact that people grow in quite unhygineic surroundings in most east asian countris. But another reason is that the food indians eat contains several spices which protect against cold/flu. It may interest you all to know that when swine flu was taking its toll in China/Hong Kong/Japan/Singapore etc...and when several of these nations had death of victims of swine flu, NOT A SINGLE INDIAN NATIONAL died during this period although there are thousands of Indian nationals living in these countries. Among the spices:Mustard/ginger/garlic/onion/cloves/cinnamon/astophadia etc. are known to boost immunity to cold/cough/flu Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

Frankly, it is large doses of Vit "C" which boosts immunity to cold. Even dose as high as 5000mg.a day or even 500mg.every hour does no harm. Should take Vit C tables that can be kept in the mouth and sucked instead of chewable or the one to gulp as this is ultimately absorbic acid. On the other hand, Vit D is not yet proven to be of any help against cold. in fact Vit D is not easy to be absorbed by the body and may cause problems. One of the problems known in case of Vit D is a body pain... Show more Frankly, it is large doses of Vit "C" which boosts immunity to cold. Even dose as high as 5000mg.a day or even 500mg.every hour does no harm. Should take Vit C tables that can be kept in the mouth and sucked instead of chewable or the one to gulp as this is ultimately absorbic acid. On the other hand, Vit D is not yet proven to be of any help against cold. in fact Vit D is not easy to be absorbed by the body and may cause problems. One of the problems known in case of Vit D is a body pain which seems to be "travelling" or moving around in the body to arms/legs/back etc. Vit D need to be taken with several base minerals and Vit C to be really effective. Any yet it is not safe. I would rather advice to take large dose of Vit C. It is harmless in large doses and is disposed of by the body very fast. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

Some of this is common sense, which, of course, isn't quite so common any more. I've always done my best to get extra sleep if I think I'm coming down with a cold. And I like to sneeze into a tissue and throw the tissue away immediately. Some of this is common sense, which, of course, isn't quite so common any more. I've always done my best to get extra sleep if I think I'm coming down with a cold. And I like to sneeze into a tissue and throw the tissue away immediately. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

Each one of the entries noted quite common sense things which we are aware of but not always "doing". We've just had our winter, but sunshine is plentiful this side. Frequent gargling, flushing out the mouth and back of the throat, I find achieves much of the common sense suggestions. Each one of the entries noted quite common sense things which we are aware of but not always "doing". We've just had our winter, but sunshine is plentiful this side. Frequent gargling, flushing out the mouth and back of the throat, I find achieves much of the common sense suggestions. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

I'm a microbiologist, and even I learned something from this helpful article. I was not aware of the value of hydration.... I'm a microbiologist, and even I learned something from this helpful article. I was not aware of the value of hydration.... Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

Drink Herbal Tea. Drink Herbal Tea. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

The following article may explain not only why, but *how* viruses are such a problem for use during Winter: http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/03/02/us-flu-winter-idUSN0228175320080302 It seems that viruses protect themselves from the cold by coating themselves with a fatty substance that makes it possible to survive the lower temperatures of that season. The following article may explain not only why, but *how* viruses are such a problem for use during Winter: http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/03/02/us-flu-winter-idUSN0228175320080302 It seems that viruses protect themselves from the cold by coating themselves with a fatty substance that makes it possible to survive the lower temperatures of that season. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

Great article! I will use these techniques and exercise to stay cold free this winter Great article! I will use these techniques and exercise to stay cold free this winter Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

Assuming that one really does have a cold when sneezing, it is quite ridiculous to suggest using the elbow to sneeze into when you have long sleeves. Not only is it impractical but clearly you would be carrying around the residue on your clothing, possibly very visibly, until it has been washed. Sneeze into your hand, or a handkerchief/tissue and either wash or throw away, as appropriate. Assuming that one really does have a cold when sneezing, it is quite ridiculous to suggest using the elbow to sneeze into when you have long sleeves. Not only is it impractical but clearly you would be carrying around the residue on your clothing, possibly very visibly, until it has been washed. Sneeze into your hand, or a handkerchief/tissue and either wash or throw away, as appropriate. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

I exercise and it helps boost the immune system, too. I exercise and it helps boost the immune system, too. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

An excellent article which came just in time for people having a already a cold and might have it with the fall and winter. pierre antaki An excellent article which came just in time for people having a already a cold and might have it with the fall and winter. pierre antaki Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

I have always been careful to avoid touching common things when out. When out shopping last week as I went through the door of a well known super store I heard a man tell his teenage daughter to take one of the treated tissues from a wall container. She did this and first wiped the handle of the cart and then handed a tissue to her father and they wiped their hands, then proceeded to shop I have always been careful to avoid touching common things when out. When out shopping last week as I went through the door of a well known super store I heard a man tell his teenage daughter to take one of the treated tissues from a wall container. She did this and first wiped the handle of the cart and then handed a tissue to her father and they wiped their hands, then proceeded to shop Hide