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Cold & flu health centre

Can you stop a cold in its tracks once it starts?

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Colds aren't usually serious but can be a drag. So is there anything you can do to avoid a cold making life miserable?

Go to bed

If colds are circulating then time in bed sleeping is important. If you don't have enough sleep you are more susceptible to the cold virus once you've been exposed to it.

A 2015 study published in the journal Sleep suggested that poor sleepers were 4 times more likely to get a cold than good sleepers. The researchers found that people who sleep 6 hours a night or less are 4 times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to the virus than those who have more than 7 hours a night.

Have a hot drink

The Common Cold Centre at the University of Cardiff has done a study into the effect of hot drinks.

Centre director Professor Ron Eccles says: "We tested a hot blackcurrant sugar-free cordial against the same drink at room temperature and found the hot drink gave relief from cold symptoms including sore throat, cough, sneezes and tiredness."

Fluids may help your body fight off a cold and fever as they prevent dehydration and help with congestion. Tea and coffee containing caffeine, and alcohol, may make dehydration worse.

Light exercise

There's some evidence that moderate intensity exercise may reduce the number of colds you get. A 2006 study of middle-aged women suggested those who walked for half an hour every day for a year, had half as many colds as those who didn't exercise.

"Exercise is a way of supporting the immune system. It may have an effect on hormones or it may make the white cells move about rapidly rather than congregate in the lungs," says Professor Eccles. "However, [strenuous] exercise has a negative impact that's why many top performing athletes have problems with colds."


Professor Eccles says a nasal spray that is acidic which creates a hostile environment for the common cold virus may help. He also believes there have been some "mildly positive results" on a nasal spray with an extract of seaweed which has an anti-viral effect in the nose.

"You need to use it in the first 24 to 48 hours for it to have any effect," says Professor Eccles. "It's like trying to put out a fire with a fire extinguisher. If you use it very early on it will work but once it takes hold and the smoke is coming out of the roof there's no point.

"Our philosophy is to treat the cold symptoms, so have a painkiller like aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen, and antihistamine to control sneezing and a runny nose," he adds.

"Nasal spray decongestants work effectively if you use them before going to bed as you can't sleep with a blocked nose and the reason many people feel miserable the next day is because of a lack of sleep," advises Professor Eccles. "Menthol lozenges give you a clear sensation in the nose and can control a sore throat so are a handy, harmless and useful remedy which you can also give to kids." Make sure you buy age-appropriate products. Check with a pharmacist if you are not sure.

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