Colds and flu are caused by hundreds of different rhinoviruses, all of which survive best in the cooler ecosystem of the nose. Everyone has their favorite remedy, but the vast majority do little more than lighten your wallet. 200,000 Americans are hospitalized each year for illnesses caused by rhinoviruses, so that common cold deserves to be treated with care.
Separating Fact from Fiction
Antibiotics can only treat secondary bacterial infections resulting from colds and flu. They’re irreplaceable if you’ve developed a throat infection or bronchitis, but they won’t clear away the virus itself.
Taken before you come down with flu, vitamin C can shorten the duration of your illness. It won’t relieve your symptoms if taken too late. Megadoses can cause nausea, cramps, headaches, and insomnia.
Iron modestly improved cold and flu symptoms in a study of five-times-daily dosing, but only supplements and lozenges are safe. The FDA has called for the removal of intranasal iron because it received 130 reports of patients who’ve lost their sense of smell.
That golden elixir will do more than sweeten your tea. It significantly improves cough symptoms, but should not be given to children who are younger than a year old due to the risk of botulism.
Results for Echinacea’s healing powers are underwhelming. The only well-designed trial showed it to be no better than a placebo. Nevertheless, believers swear by it, and it doesn’t hurt to drink fluids and breathe steam when suffering flu symptoms.
A Cochrane review of double blind trials found that probiotics might improve your odds of avoiding seasonal colds. Some trials haven’t shown such impressive results, which might suggest that only certain strains of probiotics are effective.
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