What should you do when you feel that familiar scratchy feeling in your throat? Will downing a litre of orange juice actually help you get rid of a cold? Is hand sanitizer your salvation? Or should you try a natural approach with echinacea or elderberry syrup?
Read on to find out what science has to say on the matter of head colds. Good news: by taking action quickly it might be possible to shorten the duration of a cold. So the next time you feel a cold coming on, arm yourself with these 5 simple steps.
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What is the first sign of a cold?
A sore throat or runny nose are tell-tale first signs that you might be coming down with a head cold. Nobody knows your body like you do, though — so if you think you might have a head cold coming on, take some time to slow down and tune in to see what’s going on.
On a more subtle level, you might feel more tired than usual. Fatigue is normally a sign that your body might be fighting against something.
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Body aches
What are the stages of a cold?
The average head cold lasts about 7-10 days and can be broken down into three stages:
Early stage (days 1-3)
This is the early stage of a cold with the onset of symptoms such as a scratchy throat, achy body, or general fatigue. Often people simply power through this phase, meaning they miss an important window of opportunity. In this early stage it is important to slow down. By taking certain self-care measures early on, you can significantly reduce the intensity and duration of your cold symptoms.
Active stage (days 4-7)
This is the active stage with peak symptoms such as chills or a low-grade fever, congestion or a runny nose. Running a fever is your body’s natural defence mechanism against fighting infection. A cold fever should not be confused with a flu fever which is much more serious and comes with radically more severe symptoms. If you are concerned you might be suffering from the flu and not a cold, then you should consult with your doctor.
Late stage (days 8-10)
This is the wind-down phase with tapering off symptoms such as a cough, congestion, or general fatigue. Sometimes a cough may persist for many days after other cold-related symptoms subside. If all your other active symptoms have ended, and only the cough remains, there is likely no cause for concern. If you continue to run a fever, or your symptoms worsen, however, then you should consult with your doctor.
Is it possible to shorten a cold once you are already sick?
Yes. Research suggests that taking Vitamin C or Zinc at the onset of cold symptoms may shorten the duration of those symptoms. Studies have shown that a supplemental dose of Vitamin C was enough to reduce the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children.
Some studies have shown that supplemental Zinc can reduce the length of a cold by one day — especially when taken within 24 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold.
How to stop a cold in 5 simple steps
While there is no cure for the common cold, there are some science-backed strategies for prevention. As your body works to fight off a head cold, there are also some self-care measures you can take to ease your symptoms.
We’ve consulted with our Nutrition Experts, and made a list of 5 science-backed steps for what to do when you feel a cold coming on. Following these steps during the early stages of a cold can significantly impact the overall duration and intensity of your cold symptoms.
1. Eat the rainbow
When you feel sick you might not have much of an appetite, but eating a colorful diet of fruits and vegetables is essential for helping your body recover from a cold.
Color is nature’s way of communicating with us. Fruits and vegetables signal their medicinal benefits to us through color. Many colors work together synergistically, which is why it’s our job to ensure we are eating a diverse array of these nutrient-dense foods.
As a general rule of thumb, the more colorful your diet is, the higher chance you are getting the phytonutrients and antioxidants your body needs to thrive.
- Orange and yellow foods are loaded with antioxidants such as Vitamin C — especially citrus fruits, peaches, and papayas.
- White and green leafy vegetables such as celery or kale are high in antioxidant flavonoids which defend our cells from free radicals.
- Red or purple foods such as berries or eggplants are packed with heart healthy antioxidants and compounds such as quercetin which research suggests may fight colds, flus, and allergies.
Related reading: Boost your immune system with Vitamin C
2. Take it easy and rest
Rest is key when it comes to recovery from a cold. When symptoms are not so intense, the temptation is to power through, and behave “business as usual.” However, research shows that rest can reduce the overall duration of a cold.
When we rest, we engage our parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for down-regulating (or calming) the body. In order to give our bodies the best chance of fighting off a cold we need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system by giving in to rest.
So next time you feel a cold coming on, instead of trying to power through the symptoms, try doing less, not more. Get an extra hour or two of sleep each night, and take it easy on the weekends.
3. Take a high-quality Vitamin C spray and/or Zinc spray
If you feel a cold coming on, try our Immune Boost, the spray supplement our Nutrition Experts made for immune support — whether you’re looking for a daily immune enhancer or already experiencing cold symptoms.
Immune Boost is a natural alternative to traditional over-the-counter cold medicines and is safe for everyday use. Many over-the-counter cold medicines contain harsh ingredients that may do more harm to your body than good.
Our Immune Boost has been designed to give you a potent dose of antioxidants. It contains organic elderberry extract (a good source of quercetin), Zinc Picolinate (fights inflammation), and Vitamin C. Our fast-acting liquid spray offers maximum bioavailability, with approximately 98% absorption vs. 39-53% when compared to traditional capsules.
4. Practice good hygiene
Colds spread from infected people through the air and individual contact. You can also contract a cold by touching an infected surface such as a door handle.
To stop yourself from getting a cold, or passing a cold along when you are already infected, follow these simple steps:
- Wash your hands. We’ve all become pros at washing our hands thanks to coronavirus. You know the drill — wash your hands with soap and water for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday twice (20 seconds). If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Don’t touch your face. Viruses that cause colds can easily enter your body when you are constantly touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid people. You should avoid physical contact with other people. You are most infectious during the first and second stages of a cold, and should avoid human contact by staying home from work or school.
Related reading: Coronavirus: 5 things you can do to stay healthy
5. Sleep your way to health
Research has proven that insufficient or poor sleep can hinder your body’s natural defenses. Our Nutrition Experts recommend getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night, however you may feel you need more sleep when your body is getting rid of a cold. Listen to your body, and if you feel fatigued, try to go to bed earlier or sleep in a little later.
Important ways to facilitate better sleep include:
- Managing stress levels throughout the day so that you are not constantly in fight or flight mode
- Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine or green tea at least 4 hours before bedtime
- Avoiding all screens 2 hours before bed
- Doing a soothing activity in the evening to help you wind down such as taking a bath, meditating, or reading a book
- Try Melatonin if you have trouble falling and staying asleep
The bottom line
Sadly there is no magic cure for a head cold, but by being proactive early on, you can certainly start to feel better faster. Take our 5-minute quiz to find out if our Immune Boost spray is right for you. If your cold symptoms last more than 10 days or are severe and unusual, then you should consult with your doctor.