2007_1_health_cold.jpgGrowing up, there were very few crimes in the Gothamist Health household that were as grave as going outside without a hat in the winter. Our mom was convinced that colds and flu's were spawned from such sartorial oversight as well as other offenses that included venturing outdoors with a wet head of hair. Although over the years (mostly by going to medical school) we've been able to disabuse mom of most of these myths and oldwive's tales (her finally being an old wife - don't tell her we said that). But a recent publication from the Mayo Clinic and an article in Medical News Today may re-establish some of these time tested treatments.

Considering that most adults will have a couple of colds this winter season and that kids may have up to a dozen, it's no surprise that the drug companies have been hard at work trying to cash in on this scourge, flooding the market with purported panaceas. But many may be of little to no value. First things first, despite what mom is (still) convinced of, colds are not caused by cold weather, but by viruses. Therefore antibiotics, which kill bacteria, are useless in the fight. Although some of these personal space invaders are around during the summer, it's the cold weather that drives us indoors, into close quarters, facilitating the sharing of the sniffle causing buggers. So the best treatment remains prevention: frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth immediately after shaking someone's hand or contacting some other contaminated surface.

To give mom some credit though, chicken soup does actually help. Not so much because of anything in the soup per se, but because warm liquids are good in general, keeping one hydrated, loosening up yucky mucus, and soothing a sore throat.

Scoring another point for moms, humidity also does a body good, to the same effect as drinking warm liquids. Humidity treatment can be easily accomplished by either hanging your head over a store bought humidifier or over a recently boiled and now steamy pot of water with a towel over your head, or by just spending a few extra minutes in a steamy shower.

Decongestants can help you feel less congested at first but can actually worsen symptoms after a few days of use as the body becomes accustomed to them. So try to phase them out once they stop working. People with high blood pressure, kidney problems, glaucoma, diabetes, or thyroid disease should be in touch with their doctor before using decongestants as many of the active ingredients can lead to other problems. Tylenol (acetaminophen), aspirin, and ibuprofen can help in easing body aches and keeping a fever down. Just be sure not to exceed the recommended daily dosage. Again people with kidney, liver, or stomach problems should consult their MDs before popping pills. Cough medicines probably don't do too much so just skip them.

Antihistamines, we're told, are no good. While they do help in alleviating congestion, they really dry out mucus membranes, allowing germs to stick around for longer in your nose and throat - and remember, we're tying to get rid of them. The irony here is that its an antihistamine (Benadryl, or diphenhydramine) in Nyquil that helps you sleep but in the end may hurt your recovery efforts. But like everything else, its a matter of striking the right balance. Since getting proper rest is also essential in getting over a cold or the flu, if you really can't sleep at night, a little antihistamine may work wonders. But don't be surprised if you feel parched and your throat's more sore in the morn.

And then there are the vitamins, herbs, and minerals. Many thorough and respected studies have not come up with much evidence supporting vitamin C, echinacea, or zinc. Although some have suggested that zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of symptoms.

In the end, as uncomfortable and downright miserable as your cold may make you, it should only be around for about a week. But if you start experiencing other more troubling symptoms, including a high fever, severe aches, and loss of appetite you may actually have influenza and might want to see your doctor. And gesundheit!

Do Gothamist readers have any time tested home remedies for colds?