A steamy bowl of chicken soup may not be the cure for the common cold, but it won’t make things worse.
But that’s not the case for some over-the-counter or at-home cold remedies, which may do more harm than good.
“This is especially true for older people. Several antihistamines, for example, can result in drowsiness that may cause confusion or falls,” says Rosario Giacomini, DO, primary care provider for Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Westport.
So what cold remedies should be avoided? Here’s what Dr. Giacomini has to say.
1. Vitamin C
A glass of OJ can help meet daily vitamin C requirements, but don’t pop extra supplements to protect against a cold or shorten your suffering.
“Data is inconclusive on whether supplementing with vitamin C during a cold reduces duration or symptom severity,” Dr. Giacomini explains.
If you take too much (2000mg or more), however, you could end up with headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
The daily recommended amount is 90mg for men and 75mg for women.
Evidence this supplement helps with cold symptom duration or severity is also inconclusive, Dr. Giacomini says.
Taking more than the recommended daily allowance -11mg for men, 8mg for women – can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting and loss of appetite. Side effects can start around 40mg.
In addition, he says zinc interacts negatively with important medications like antibiotics, NSAIDS and immunosuppressants, so talk to you provider before taking any.
3. Hot toddies
Before effective medicine, many cold-sufferers reached for the whiskey, with some hot water, lemon and honey – all the makings of a perfect hot toddy.
But, Dr. Giacomini says while they may relieve symptoms in the moment, drinking hot toddies may actually prolong cold symptoms.
“Relief comes from the honey and hot water. The alcohol may weaken the immune system and, in turn, your body’s ability to effectively fight off the cold,” he explains.
When in doubt, go with rest and fluids.
Instead of following fads or old wives’ tales when treating a cold, Dr. Giacomini suggests a simple combination of rest and fluids.
“Drinking water or juice helps prevent the dehydration common when sick,” he says. “For a sore throat, we recommend saltwater gargles or honey, either in a liquid or alone. For congestion, we recommend nasal saline spray with an inhaled glucocorticoid like Fluticasone.”
And be careful when choosing cold medications.
As cold remedy aisles in store grow, choose over-the-counter cold medication can be confusing. Many target specific symptoms, but be careful when combining them.
“While some medications may provide mild symptom relief, they are not without side effects, especially when combined. For example, many cough medicines and decongestants contain a pain reliever like acetaminophen. In high enough doses, this can be toxic for the body,” Dr. Giacomini says.
He suggests checking with your primary care provider to avoid unwanted drug interactions.