December 6, 2011


Echinacea ineffective against colds -- does anything really work? (Deborah Kotz, December 20, 2010, Boston Globe)

Surely, though, there's something we can do to make our colds go away faster or, better yet, prevent them altogether?

"The short answer is no," says Jeffrey Linder, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who treats a lot of colds and flu this time of year. Certain prescription medicines can help relieve severe symptoms, though there's little evidence, Linder says, that over-the-counter cough medicine does any good. He sometimes prescribes albuterol, an asthma medicine, to open clogged airways that come with lung congestion. And he'll prescribe a cough syrup with codeine to help quiet coughs at night. Nasal decongestants can also be helpful, but Linder doesn't recommend using them beyond three days to avoid becoming dependent on them.

Still, he's not ready to back-away from commonsense lifestyle measures when it comes to preventing colds.

    Sleep, at least 8 hours. Or however long your body needs. "Listen to you body," Linder says. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and allow your body to wake up on its own. Research suggests that those who don't get enough sleep are more likely to be infected with colds when exposed to viruses.

    Exercise. Exercise has an immune-boosting effect, but don't overdo it to the point of exhaustion. That could overstress your body and actually suppress your immune system.

    Eat right. "Do what your mother told you," he says. "Eat a balanced diet, a lot of fruits and vegetables, not too much saturated fat." This should, in theory, keep your immune system in full-functioning mode, better able to fend off viral invasions.

    Wash hands frequently. This should help keep you from transferring cold viruses that you pick up from surfaces to your eyes, nose, and mouth, where they'll enter your body.

Posted by at December 6, 2011 6:31 AM

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