Misconceptions About Common Cold Remedies

We’ve all been there – one minute you’re feeling fine, then suddenly a Winter bug strikes. On average people have around two or three colds a year, but do we really know the best way to treat them?

Most people try to treat the symptoms of a cold (blocked or runny nose, congestion, headaches, sore throat, tickly cough and general tiredness) with various methods, but there are many misconceptions. Indeed, many common remedies may have a counterproductive effect and prolong the actual cold itself.

Some common myths:

Lying in bed all day

This is many people’s number one treatment, but it could be doing you a lot of harm. While it’s true you need rest during an illness, lying down has a huge negative effect. At the very least you should be propping up your head and upper torso with a couple of pillows, without hurting your neck obviously.

Turning heating up

Again, something that most of us naturally do. Hot rooms make us feel more cosy, but dry, hot air will only increase some symptoms, particularly congestion and other nose-related issues. Fan heaters are especially bad for this. Consider using a humidifier to put moisture back in the air.

Over-the-counter medicine / Nasal sprays

There’s very little scientific evidence to suggest that any of the usual cold and flu tablets and decongestant powders actually work. It’s easy to think a medicine you are taking is having an effect on the cold itself when actually it’s only slightly easing the symptoms. Additionally, some may be counterproductive, easing one symptom but increasing another. Nasal sprays can be especially dangerous when overused, and can even cause further inflammation themselves.

Echinacea / Vitamin C / Zinc

Unfortunately while we’d all love to believe nature has the remedy to the common cold, it’s simply not true. Neither echinacea or vitamin C has any scientific backup, and zinc only a modicum of evidence.

What to do:

So what can you do to help a common cold? Well the short answer is nothing. There is no medical cure; a cold virus will naturally retract on its own after a week on average.

That’s not to say there aren’t some sensible things you can do to ease the symptoms, without causing further damage:

Drink fluids

Or rather: ‘Don’t forget to drink fluids’. While there is no evidence taking on excess liquid will shorten a cold, it is important to keep up a sensible intake. It’s easy to lie around all day feeling sorry for yourself, but not drinking or eating properly won’t do anything to help you feel better. The old chicken soup remedy even has some scientific benefit.

Take showers

Primarily steam from the shower will help loosen mucus while the moisture from the water helps to relieve dry nasal passages. Additionally, a shower is a sure-fire way of getting you up and about and feeling refreshed, rather than lazing around feeling sorry for yourself.

Saline spray

This is a great alternative to over-the-counter nasal sprays. Salt-water rinsing helps break nasal congestion while also removing virus particles and bacteria from your nose. While the effects don’t last long it can be a good temporary fix to help you sleep or get some respite from the symptoms.

(and most importantly… ) Take it easy!

This is sometimes the simplest thing to forget. While you shouldn’t lie in bed all day, it doesn’t mean you should be rushing around at your everyday speed. Avoid serious exercise, late nights or excessive stimulants. As with any illness, your body needs to concentrate on fighting a cold virus, rather than anything else you throw at it.


It goes without saying these aren’t the views of a medical professional and this site takes no responsibly for your own actions. Stay safe people, it’s only a cold.