Uh oh, there it is: that raw feeling in the back of your throat, or the pressure behind your eyes, a little stuffiness in your nose, or some kind of cough. Everyone has their own warning signs of a cold virus, and while we’d love to chase them away, it’s best to listen to your body. If you do this and take immediate action to take care of yourself, you can potentially avoid a long battle against the cold of the year. There are some things you can do to control how long a cold lasts. Here’s how experts say you should approach your first day, and beyond, of feeling sick.
07:00 Call in sick if you can
The first morning you wake up feeling like a cold has set in – you’re stuffy, a cough is brewing and your brain is far from focused – you need unlimited access to rest. Don’t think you’ll be a hero if you drag yourself to work; you’ll probably feel lousy longer, says Chris D’Adamo, Ph.D., director of research at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. And you’ll spread your germs: you’re most contagious during the first two or three days, when you’re sneezing and coughing hard.
7:15 a.m. Test for COVID
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking a home test as soon as you develop symptoms that could indicate COVID-19, such as sore throat, congestion, cough, fever, headache, body aches, nausea and diarrhoea. If the result is positive, stay home for at least five days and isolate yourself from others, tell anyone you have been in close contact with and alert your doctor if you are over 50, have an underlying condition or if your symptoms worsen. If it’s negative and you still have symptoms, stay home and test again within 24 to 48 hours.
7:30 a.m. Steam, rinse
Step into a hot shower. The warm, moist air helps hydrate the membranes in your nose and throat so mucus can flow more freely, says Andrew Weil, MD, founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine. When you go outside, you can use a neti pot with sterile, distilled or pre-boiled water that has cooled down to help clear up and flush out any stuff that’s still filling you up and some of the germs in it, he says. .
8:00 a.m. Take tea time
Pour yourself a steaming cup of just about anything – it can help ease the feeling of stuffiness, and the tea can also help ease a sore throat. It is especially good to fill this cup with echinacea tea, which can reduce cold symptoms. Follow that with a little something to eat.
8:30 am Consider Supplements
You may want to continue breakfast with a probiotic supplement. One study found that people who took probiotics or drank probiotic yogurt drinks containing strains of lactobacilli and/or bifidobacteria recovered faster from their cold. Also try taking zinc lozenges: research has shown that they can shorten a cold if you take them within the first 24 hours of symptoms. Get your doctor’s approval first, as zinc can interact with medications, and take it with food to avoid a fussy stomach.
10:30 a.m. Go back to bed
You can’t recover that easily without rest. Fatigue is nature’s way of telling us to devote energy to the immune response instead of running around, notes Christopher Coe, Ph.D., director of the Harlow Center for Biological Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. .
10:45 a.m. Tackling Congestion
Can’t take a nap because your nose is stuffy? Try opening things up with a saline nasal mist or consider a medicated decongestant nasal spray, says Stacey Curtis, Pharm.D., community pharmacist and associate clinical professor at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy. These sprays relieve swelling in the nasal passages faster than pills.
If you’re congested but need to stay awake — for example, you need to do work — look for a decongestant medication containing pseudoephedrine, Curtis says. This can only be purchased at a pharmacy, where it is stored behind the counter.
12:30 p.m. Eat a lunch
Even when your appetite is low, don’t say no to chicken soup. The hot broth will help relieve congestion, and the saltiness will make you thirsty, so you’ll be hydrating with other fluids, says Joan Salge Blake, Ed.D., RDN, clinical professor at Boston University and host of the podcast on nutrition and health. Spot On!
2:00 p.m. Go for it
If you have symptoms only above the neck (congestion, minor sore throat, runny nose) without fever, swollen glands, or body aches, go outside for a short calm walk. Experts believe that moderate cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, helps antibodies and infection-fighting white blood cells flow through your body faster. Don’t get too ambitious, though: avoid intense workouts and be sure to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
15:00 Prepare funny videos
Pretty bored now, huh? Listening to a fun little trick could give your immune system a boost. (If you’ve been working hard, put on your headphones and give yourself a short LOL session.) Research shows that laughter can stimulate the production of antibodies that destroy bacteria and viruses. Besides, you deserve a smile right now.
6:00 p.m. Having dinner
You might not feel like eating a meal, but you need fuel, especially if you have a fever, because your body uses a lot of energy to fight off that thing, D’Adamo says. Consider making a quick stir-fry that includes thin slices of beef (for the zinc), mushrooms (they contain potential immune boosters called beta-glucans), and crushed garlic (for the antimicrobial allicin).
20:00 Setting the stage for a better night
For most people, cold symptoms worsen at night, Dr. Weil says, especially when they first go to bed. You are likely to cough more from mucus running down the back of your nose and into your throat. So before bed, take all that sniffing and hacking up a notch with a mini steam room. Start by boiling water and pouring it into a large bowl. Drape a towel loosely over your head as you lean over the bowl (not too close!) and breathe deeply for a few minutes. Then, if you have a humidifier, maintain hydration overnight.
9:00 p.m. Take medicine that relieves ZZZs
To prevent symptoms from waking you up, choose nighttime formulations of medication. Or try a natural sleeping pill: D’Adamo recommends 1mg to 3mg of melatonin (a sleep hormone) 30 minutes before bedtime. Opt for a time-release formula, he says, so the effects last all night.
9:30 p.m. Turn on the lights
Yes, it’s early, but that’s the goal. “Rest is what’s really going to help speed up the recovery process,” D’Adamo says. Rearrange the pillows to comfortably elevate your head and neck; which will relieve sinus pressure and help you breathe.
Day 2 and beyond
Rest more than you think you need. If you go to work, that should be all you do: cancel evening plans and go out super early. “If you’ve taken zinc or echinacea, continue until you’re fully recovered,” says D’Adamo. Decongestants and cough suppressants? “You will probably have to continue for a few days, but after the second day try to use them less frequently.” After the third day, be sure to stop the nasal sprays; it’s hard to wean off after that.
Make sure you take the right medications
Viruses cause colds, flu and COVID-19, so antibiotics won’t fight them. However, your doctor may recommend an antiviral like Tamiflu for the flu, Paxlovid for COVID-19, or an antibiotic if you’re fighting a bacterial infection like strep throat. If you’re sticking to over-the-counter medications, buy a formula that targets your worst symptom because combination products make it easy to double-dose ingredients, says Stacey Curtis, Pharm.D. Fight multiple symptoms? Ask the pharmacist (or better yet, your doctor) which drugs are safe to mix.
- Chest Congestion: Consider an expectorant like guaifenesin to break up mucus.
- A persistent cough: A cough suppressant such as dextromethorphan might help. This essentially shuts down the cough center in your brain, Curtis says. Some products also contain ingredients that calm the back of the throat.
- A really stuffy nose: If a saline product doesn’t work, you can try a nasal spray containing oxymetazoline. These sprays force nasal blood vessels to close, but limit their use to three days or you could get rebound congestion.
- A stuffy nose plus sinus pressure: Curtis recommends a decongestant with pseudoephedrine. The downside: it can make some people a little nervous.
- A sore throat: Cough drops, lozenges, or sprays with a numbing agent like benzocaine or phenol can help. For light scrapes, look for lozenges with pectin. If your sore throat is due to postnasal drip, consider taking an antihistamine like diphenhydramine.