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When you start to sniffle or feel a lump in your throat, you know what to expect. You’ve likely had dozens of colds throughout your life, and while they’re inconvenient, you know how to ride them out. But what do you know about the science of the common cold? How do the home remedies you learned as a kid or the common adages about sickness stack up against the facts?
If you take the time to investigate some commonly-held beliefs about the common cold, you’ll find that not all claims have a scientific basis. Some, however, do hold water.
Claim #1: The Common Cold Has No Cure
Unfortunately, a cure for the common cold has yet to be discovered, and may not exist. The primary reason scientists haven’t developed a cure to the “common” cold is that the sickness isn’t common at all—rather, hundreds of different viruses cause illnesses that trigger similar symptoms and immune responses.
If there isn’t a cure, what is the quickest way to get rid of a cold? You can boost your immune system, helping your body ward off the cold-causing pathogen.
Claim #2: Not Wearing a Jacket? You’ll Catch a Cold
While you may often hear this expression, cold temperatures do not directly lead to the development of a cold. As mentioned above, viruses cause colds, not environmental factors. That being said, cold air can contribute to the factors that weaken your immune system, leaving you susceptible to outside invasion.
Claim #3: If You Have a Cold, You Should Take Antibiotics
This claim has no scientific backing. Nonetheless, many people consider it true. As clearly stated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Antibiotics do not work against viruses that cause colds and will not help you feel better.”
Then where does this misconception come from? It stems from confusion over the causes of the common cold. While antibiotics can address bacterial infections, they cannot combat viral infections. While bacteria reproduces and spreads, viruses attach to healthy cells and essentially reprogram them. Antibiotics prevent the spread of bacteria, but can’t recover cells already modified by a virus.
Taking antibiotics when you don’t need to can actually have dangerous effects—you should never use antibiotics without instruction from a medical professional.
Claim #4: The Flu Is the Same Thing as the Common Cold
While colds and the flu produce similar symptoms, the two ailments have significant differences. Though viruses cause both types of illnesses, only a certain subset of viruses, called influenza viruses, cause the flu.
Why does this differentiation matter? Because while the common cold has no cure, you can get a vaccine to prevent contracting the flu. The seasonal flu shot includes small strains of the flu, prompting the body to produce antibodies that can fight off future infection.
Claim #5: You Can Be Exposed to a Cold Virus But Not Show Symptoms
Coming into contact with a cold virus does not guarantee you will exhibit cold symptoms. Typically, an infected person will notice coughing, sneezing, a sore throat, or a runny nose, but sometimes, people are asymptomatic. Doctors refer to these occasions as sub-clinical infections.
A Cold Case for Immune Health
Hopefully, the assessment of these five widespread claims provides a better understanding of the “common cold.” Now that you know what you’re up against, you take action to improve your immune health—the only effective way to prevent or shorten colds.
You can boost your immune system with natural practices, or by taking supplements. Ways to strengthen immunity include:
- Increasing intake of vitamin C, B6, and E
- Regularly getting eight hours of sleep
- Reducing stress
- Exercising at least three times a week
- Practicing good hygiene
- Cutting out harmful habits, such as smoking