Good hygiene, washing hands frequently, avoiding touching the nose and mouth, covering sneezes and coughs are all simple, effective ways to help prevent the spread of viruses.
Still, everyone gets laid up with a cold now and then. Wintertime, when many people spend more time in the dry indoors, can seem like a season when there are plenty of sniffles to spread around.
If you become sick, get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and try to keep the sinuses clear, said Dr. Jamey Wallace, the chief medical officer at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.
Over-the-counter cold medicines mask symptoms and don't necessarily speed recovery, despite marketing campaigns that promise relief, he said.
"None of that stuff works," Wallace said. "They're not cure-alls."
Gina Cadena-Forney, a family medicine doctor with Providence Physician Group, agreed.
"A lot of patients have expectations to get some medication," she said. "A common cold has to run its course before you can get better."
There are ways to treat symptoms and provide relief to the discomfort.
Wallace, who practices and teaches naturopathic medicine, said using saline nasal washes, including the Neti Pot, soothes the sinuses.
Irritated skin around the nose may be helped by using moist tissues, including a new product called Saline Soothers, made by the same people who sell Boogey Wipes for kids.
Drinking hot fluids with lemon and honey can provide relief, Cadena-Forney said. Studies show that high concentration of vitamin C can speed the course of the virus.
Turmeric has natural anti-inflammatory properties and eucalyptus oil often loosens secretions, she said. Putting a few drops in a humidifier can help people breathe more easily.
Other suggestions include drinking tea made from freshly sliced ginger, taking elderflower syrup, using zinc lozenges and taking hot baths, Wallace said.
Reducing stress, along with getting rest, also is crucial to recovery, he said.
"We really want to encourage people with cold and flu symptoms to stay home," from work or school, Wallace said.
When rest and tender, loving care doesn't do the trick, it may be time to call the doctor. Other warning signs include coughing up blood, high fevers or an illness that lasts longer than two weeks.
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