How to Avoid and Treat the Common Cold

The chilly weather is upon us (at least in many parts of the U.S.) — and unfortunately that means cold and flu season is here too. If you start to sneeze and experience a stuffy or runny nose, a sore throat, and a mild cough, chances are you’ve contracted one of the 200-plus viruses that can cause the common cold. And though following a healthy lifestyle like the South Beach Diet — which involves eating vitamin- and mineral-rich foods and staying active — does help bolster your immune system, everyone gets colds from time to time.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent getting a cold is regular hand washing. Engage in this habit often — especially if you've been in contact with someone who is coughing or sneezing, or if you've touched frequently handled objects in public places (like shopping carts or handrails or gym equipment). If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

If you do get a cold, it will probably clear up in 7 to 10 days. In the meantime, you can take steps to manage your symptoms and make life a little more bearable. Here are a few tips from Dr. Arthur Agatston, South Beach Diet creator and author of The South Beach Diet Wake-Up Call, on how to treat a cold:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Water is the obvious choice, but other healthy beverages — including clear consommé or broth — will ensure you don’t get dehydrated while you’re trying to recover. In addition, certain herbal teas, such as those that contain ginger or licorice root, may soothe a sore throat. And of course there’s the traditional homemade chicken soup, which (when made with plenty of veggies) some researchers suggest may have anti-inflammatory properties that could ease the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections — or at the very least serve as a soothing comfort food.

  • Choose a medication in pill or sugar-free liquid form. Pills do not contain a significant amount of added sugars, and sugar-free cough drops and cough syrup are available at most pharmacies. (Keep in mind that they may contain sugar alcohols, which should be consumed in moderation because they can cause gastrointestinal distress.) Also, remember that antibiotics are not effective against the common cold — or any other virus.

  • Get plenty of rest. Allowing your body the proper amount of rest — at least 8 hours per night for most adults and more when you’re sick — will help you get better faster. And unless your doctor says otherwise (or if you have a fever), stick with your usual exercise routine if you feel up to it — there's no medical reason to skip it. Some studies even show that the common cold can be warded off by exercise. A brisk walk every day can also help boost your immune system and reduce the severity of a cold if you get one.

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