Recently I saw several headlines buzzing about a cure for the common cold.
Wouldn’t that be great? Finding a cure for the common cold is one of the holy grails of medical research, next to finding a cure for cancer.
But while the research is hopeful, I’m not expecting to be cold-free in my lifetime.
What the research shows
The problem with trying to cure a cold virus, or any virus, is that it mutates constantly. It’s like shooting a rapidly-moving target.
Researchers are smart, however. Rather than trying to attack the virus directly, they decided to change something about the host—the human body.
Apparently there is a specific protein in our cells that the cold virus needs to set up shop, replicate like crazy, and make us sick.
What if, the researchers thought, we get rid of that protein and make it impossible for the virus to reproduce?
In the lab, their idea seems to work. And as far as they know, this protein is not essential to humans, so we could live just fine without it.
The tricky part is how to eliminate that protein from our cells. Obviously, we can’t be genetically modified en masse.
The scientists hope to discover a drug that would block the protein from interacting with the virus. Such a drug would have to be safe, effective, and hopefully affordable. (Who am I kidding? A drug that cures colds will cost $$$).
But although this research offers hope, a cure for the common cold won’t be available on the store shelves anytime soon.
Get ready for cold season
So we need to get ready for cold season the old-fashioned way.
1. Wash your hands—a lot
Everything you touch is probably covered with cold germs. Or flu germs. Or germs that make you vomit.
Remember that and you will be much more likely to wash your hands several times a day!
I keep a large dispenser of hand sanitizer on my kitchen counter during cold season. (Hint: buy the large size at an office supply store to get the best price.)
Plain liquid hand soap is a good option, too. Don’t bother with antibacterial soaps; they don’t add any more germ-killing benefit.
Whether using soap or hand sanitizer, make sure you wash long enough to remove all those germs. Hand-washing experts recommend at least 20 seconds.
2. Stock up on the few over-the-counter products that help
The list of over-the-counter or drugstore products that actually help a cold is pretty short.
Ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
These are both pain relievers and fever reducers. Ibuprofen also treats inflammation, so it’s good for a sore throat. Acetaminophen is good for a headache, and it’s also a mild decongestant.
There is no good evidence that high doses of vitamin C either prevent or treat a cold.
Decongestants provide temporary relief, but I never use them. They dry out my sinuses and make me feel even more stuffed up later on. Decongestants are stimulants, too, and increase heart rate and anxiety in some people.
3. Know these simple home remedies
I cover the basic tips to care for colds in another post, The most effective cold remedies.
In addition to using an over-the-counter pain reliever, try:
- Using a neti pot to keep your sinuses hydrated and loosen up mucus.
- Drinking several glasses of water, tea, or other drinks to stay hydrated.
- Taking a warm shower because the steam will also help loosen up the mucus in your sinuses.
- Gargling with warm salt water to treat a sore throat.
- Sucking on cough drops that contain pectin, which coats and soothes a sore throat.
And if you do get a cold, try not to spread it around too much. Wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow, and stay home from work or school while you’re contagious.