- If you feel a cold coming on, taking supplements like elderberry or zinc within 24 hours may help recovery.
- You should also get at least eight hours of sleep, which can make a big difference in curbing the intensity of your cold.
- It’s also important to stay hydrated by drinking water and warm, herbal caffeine-free tea.
- This article was medically reviewed by Rod Oskouian, MD, at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
If your sneezing fits are stuck on repeat or you find yourself reaching for a tissue every 15 minutes, you might be experiencing the early signs of a cold.
Now, there’s no cure for the common cold, but there are steps you can take in the first 24 hours of symptoms that will help lessen the severity of your illness and reduce the number of days you’re out of commission.
What to do when you feel a cold coming on
Before you rush off to buy every over-the-counter medicine you can get your hands on, take a few minutes to assess the symptoms. Early warning signs include a sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches, or body aches.
Once you’re confident it’s the onset of a cold, the first thing you should do is stay hydrated and head straight to your local store or pharmacy, says Myles Spar, MD, chief medical officer of Vault Health.
Once you’re at the pharmacy, Spar recommends supplements like elderberry and zinc. Here’s why:
- Elderberrysupplements and extracts have antimicrobial and antiviral properties that can inhibit the growth of infectious viruses, like cold and flu, in your body. This can help reduce the length of your illness. For example, one small study found that people with cold symptoms who took 600 to 900 mg of elderberry extract a day for about two weeks felt better two days sooner than participants with cold symptoms who took a placebo. However, more research is needed to determine if elderberry can work for everyone.
- Zinc supplements are also an antiviral substance. Multiple studies have found that taking zinc can reduce the length of cold symptoms by at least one day. However, too much zinc can backfire and damage your nervous system, so speak with a doctor before you take any.
Taking these supplements within 24 hours of feeling symptoms will help your body get a foothold against the virus, Spar says.
“Getting eight hours or more of sleep can make a big difference in curbing the intensity of the cold,” Spar says.
How to relieve cold symptoms
Even if you feel healthy enough to go to work, you should consider staying home if you’re experiencing the early symptoms. The common cold is highly contagious, and you’re most likely to spread the virus in the first 48 to 72 hours of showing symptoms.
If you feel the cold progressing, then it might be time to invest in some other over-the-counter medications, that can at least help lessen the symptoms. Rehman recommends:
- Decongestants, which narrow the blood vessels, can help reduce inflammation in your nasal passages, resulting in relief from congestion and a runny nose.
- Cough suppressants, which help control the cough reflex, may relieve the symptoms of a dry, hacking cough.
- Antipyretics and analgesics, which include acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium, can help treat a fever and reduce minor pain associated with the common cold.
- Expectorants, which make it easier to cough up mucus, can help when you have a wet cough.
Consult with a doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about which product to choose.
Related stories about the common cold:
- You’re probably not washing your hands long enough, and it could be making you sick
- You can’t sweat out a cold, and trying to could make it harder for you to recover
- When it’s OK to work out with a cold and when you should stay in bed
- To get over a cold fast, eat foods rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and calcium
- Is it a cold or allergies? How to categorise your symptoms and treat them appropriately
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