How Can You Stop a Cold? Here are 9 Ways to Ease Symptoms ASAP

These doctor-approved tips and tricks will help you start feeling better sooner rather than later.

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A tickle in your throat. A cloudy head. An achy body. Yep, you're coming down with something...again. Fun fact: The average adult gets three colds per year, each lasting an average of nine days, says Jane Sadler, MD, a family practice physician at Baylor-Garland Hospital in Garland, Texas. But you don't have to surrender. Here's how to stop a cold before it takes hold—and feel better by ASAP.

Drink up to say hydrated.

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Drinking water and juice to stay hydrated can help cut down on symptoms like a sore throat and stuffy nose, says William Schaffner, MD, professor and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. One thing to keep in mind: Steer clear of alcohol and super-sugary drinks to help prevent dehydration, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. And if your throat's a little too scratchy to gulp anything down, try sucking on ice chips.

Try gargling with salt water.

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To combat a scratchy throat add half a teaspoon of salt to a glass of warm water. "The salt draws out excess water in your throat's tissues, reducing the inflammation, and clears mucous and irritants from the back of the throat," notes Philip Hagen, MD, medical editor-in-chief of Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies. The rinse also flushes out bacteria and viruses, which may help whether you're getting a cold or want to prevent one in the first place.

Try a nasal spray to keep your nose clean.

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Using a saline nasal spray right after cold symptoms first appear may reduce their impact by moisturizing dry nasal passages and loosening mucous caused by colds, says Dr. Schaffner. Another suggestion: Take a hot shower. "Warm moisture helps clear nasal passages," he adds.

Stock up on some OTC medicines.

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Grab a pain reliever like acetaminophen to fight off achiness and possibly even quell a low-grade fever. Over-the-counter allergy meds, like Zyrtec and Benadryl, help with symptoms like runny nose and watery eyes; allergy meds that contain decongestants, like Claritin D or Alavert D, will help clear your sinuses and keep you alert, if you need to be, says Mark Moyad, MD, MPH, Jenkins/Pokempner director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

Try adding some honey to your hot water.


Good old honey works just as well (and tastes better!), says Harley Rotbart, MD, professor and vice chairman of pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Have one to two tablespoons straight from the jar or stirred into tea. And forget zinc lozenges and sprays: There's just not conclusive proof that they work, Dr. Rotbart notes.

Go ahead and take a sick day.

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Your body can fight off the virus better if you're well-rested, so sleep is basically your best friend when you're ill. But if you have to go in, it's not the end of the world, says Janet O'Mahony, MD, an internal medicine physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Just steer clear of co-workers as best you can—the first few days of a cold is when you're most contagious. To keep from sharing your germs, wash your hands regularly or use an alcohol-based disinfectant gel.

Eat some chicken soup—seriously.

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While you're sipping on plenty of juice and water, you might as well slurp down some chicken noodle soup, too. One study in the journal Chest found that the soup might actually have some anti-inflammatory benefits. Also: It just tastes so comforting when you're under the weather.

Try to get some light exercise in.

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If you're up for a little activity, "light exercise can actually boost the immune system," Dr. Sadler says. But we mean light: Keep your heart rate just under 100—that means a leisurely walk or a chill yoga session.

Pack your diet with tons of nutrients.

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The last thing you want to do when you're sick is eat greasy, nutrient-light foods. Instead, focus on a healthy diet to help fuel the immune system—that means protein-packed foods like lean meat, fish, or beans, with a whole-grain side like brown rice and plenty of antioxidant-rich vegetables.

When to finally see a doctor.

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If over the course of a few days, you feel worse or have a fever, start vomiting, or develop an increasingly bad headache, call your doctor—these are signs you've got something other than the common cold (such as flu or an infection), and you may need antiviral medication, antibiotics, or other treatment.

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