Cold and Flu Myths


Let's face it, cold and flu myths are everywhere. Well-meaning as they may be, many people's supposed words of wisdom about how to avoid getting sick -- and their advice about what you should do once you've caught a cold or flu -- could probably use a good dose of medicine. Here's what's really happening when you have a cold, plus what you can do to get well quickly.

What Is a Cold, and How Do You Beat It?

A cold is your body's response to a rhinovirus that is replicating in your respiratory tract. These viruses cause coughing, sneezing, stuffy nose, and a general feeling of being run-down. A sore throat is a common side effect of all that coughing and mucus, the slimy stuff your body creates in response to the virus hanging around. So, what do you do to kick that cold?

If your grandmother's cold-recovery advice was to stay in bed, get lots of rest, drink water, and eat soup, she was right! In people who are otherwise healthy, there are few things that can actually hasten the end of a cold. Over-the-counter medications can help manage the main symptoms, the coughing and mucus. In time -- a week to 10 days -- a normal body will beat a cold or flu. You'll start to feel better before then, but continue to keep your hands clean and avoid touching your face so you don't spread the cold around.

Extra Steps for Fighting Colds

There are also other things that can help you on the road to recovery when you have a cold. These include:

  • Taking oral zinc. If you take it exactly as described, every two hours from the time you start to feel sick to when your symptoms are gone, might decrease the cold duration. Avoid nasal zinc.
  • Rinsing your nose and sinuses. This can help manage the mucus, but be sure to use sterile water.
  • Taking Vitamin C. If you're a child or are in challenging physical conditions, this vitamin will give you an extra boost.

So far, zinc taken by mouth is the only supplement that has been proven to lessen the duration of a cold. The Vitamin C tip works for those with less robust immune systems, but it isn't as useful for healthy adults in normal conditions.

What About the Flu?

The flu is also caused by viruses -- but there's one important step you can take to prevent this illness that you can't with a cold. Namely, you can get vaccinated: Influenza and the illnesses it causes are mostly preventable with vaccination. Even if you wait to vaccinate, you'll get less sick than if you never vaccinated at all. While it isn't perfect, flu vaccination is worthwhile for a simple reason: Nobody dies of rhinoviruses. People do die of the flu, however -- hundreds every year, many of them children. Thousands more end up in the hospital with pneumonia.

So what's myth and what's truth?

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The information provided by Dignity Health and Dignity Health Arizona is for general informational purposes only. All information is provided in good fair and we make no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied.