How to beat a cold
Don't let illness get you down this winter!
It's winter time, and topping our list of seasonal annoyances (just ahead of Cliff Richard) is the sudden influx of sickliness caused by colds. Freezing weather and enclosed spaces lead to viruses spreading more quickly than in summer months, and for most people a winter cold is as inevitable as a dodgy Christmas present. But how can you fend off bugs and, if you do get infected, bounce back to health quickly?
Wash your hands: Experts estimate that more than half of all colds are transmitted by hand contact, so get into the habit of washing your hands after touching surfaces in public places (e.g. door handles, stair rails, library desks etc.) Always wash your hands after using the toilet and before you eat. Use hot, soapy water to remove bacteria properly (if you don't have access to a sink then anti-viral hand sanitizer is a good alternative).
Eat well: Plenty of fruit and veg will help boost your immune system, as will limiting your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as white bread and white flour products).
Natural protection: Research has shown that echinacea helps to build up your natural defences, decreasing the odds of developing a cold by 58%. If everyone around you is sniffling, then a few drops in water three times a day should help protect you - although you shouldn't take it continuously for more than eight weeks at a time.
Stop the spread: If someone in your house has a cold, make sure their tissues are thrown away, their glasses and cutlery are thoroughly washed and their toothbrush is kept separately from anyone else's. Obviously shunning them to a separate part of the house would also help but it kind of depends how cruel you want to be...
Avoid stress: Easier said than done we know (particularly with Christmas exams), but the more stressed you are the more prone you'll be to picking up viruses. Getting enough sleep (at least 7 hours) will help you stay calm - research has shown that anyone who gets less than that is three times more likely to develop a cold.
Walk to uni: If you can walk or cycle rather than taking public transport then go for it - trains and buses double your chances of catching a cold or flu because confined spaces are a breeding ground for germs.
Don't touch your face: More specifically, avoid touching your eyes and nose. Most of the viruses that cause common colds need to get into the membranes of the nose or tear ducts in order to cause infection - so leave your face alone!
Exercise: Studies have shown that people who do five 20-minute sessions of exercise a week are less likely to be affected by colds. Better head down to the gym pronto...
Wrap up warm: Although it's a myth that cold weather alone makes you ill, it has been shown to boost the survival time of some cold viruses, as well as making the nasal passages more susceptible to infection by drying them out. That's why it's good to wrap up as much as possible when you go out.
Pain relief: If you have severe symptoms then aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen are very effective for relieving headaches, sinus pain, sore throats and general aches and pains.
Unclog yourself: No one likes a snot-fest. Limit your's by inhaling decongestants such as menthol and eucalyptus oils - you can do this by adding them to the bath or, if you're feeling fancy, shoving them in a bowl of hot water and then inhaling them with a towel over your head for 15 minutes (warning - your flatmates will definitely take the p***).
Nose care: Yeah, you heard. One of most unpleasant (and unattractive) side effects of a cold is a red, flaky nose. Luckily splashing out on some extra-soft tissues and liberally applying Vaseline (you look crap anyway so it can't really hurt) should help soothe your poor schnoz.
Don't smoke: It really goes without saying, but smoking while you have a cold is only going to make things a lot worse.
Drink right: Make sure you're hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, fruit juices (which contain vitamin C) and tea (researchers at Harvard University discovered that tea drinkers had immune system responses FIVE times faster than coffee drinkers). On that note, cutting down on coffee and alcohol will help prevent de-hydration, while avoiding milk should lead to less mucus production (bleurgh).
Chicken soup: Not just an old wives' tale - chicken soup has repeatedly been found to aid recovery from colds. This is possibly because it contains cystine, which thins mucus in the nose and lungs making it easier for the body to get rid of. Plus there's nothing more comforting when you're feeling rough. Other foods recommended during colds include garlic, spicy dishes and anything containing zinc (e.g. meat, peanuts and seafood).
Throat relief: Hot drinks and Lemsip will help soothe a sore throat. Gargling with salt water is also recommended, as it fights inflammation by killing off edemas (the tiny, fluid-filled bumps that make your throat hurt).
Stay still: Finally an excuse not to go jogging! Over-exerting yourself is not a good idea when you have a cold, as all your energy needs to be pumped into fighting off the virus. The best thing you can do is just have a nice lie down. Hooray!