How to get rid of a cold fast:
Dos & Don’ts

Reviewed by Theresa H. Care Delivery Manager & Family Nurse Practitioner

Time saver 4 min read

Ah-choo! When the first signs of a cold strike, you spring into action – desperate to try or take anything that makes you feel better. While there’s no cure for the common cold, there are definitely things you can do to reduce the severity of cold symptoms and potentially shorten the length of time you feel sick. On the flipside, there are also things you can do that will likely make you feel worse and possibly increase your risk of developing other cold-related conditions – like a sinus infection or bronchitis.

Wondering what you should and shouldn’t do when a cold strikes and you want to feel better fast? We break down the dos and don’ts of how to beat a cold.

4 cold-fighting dos

Do rest up

It’s recommended that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. When you’re under the weather, your body needs even more rest and relaxation. That’s because your body’s immune cells kick into high gear during sleep. Get too little sleep and your body may have a harder time warding off viruses – including the one that’s behind your sniffles and sneezes.

Do stay hydrated

When fighting a cold, your body increases mucus production to help usher out pathogens. The result? You become a master in the ancient art of nose-blowing. To keep things draining and flowing – and prevent dehydration – you’ll want to drink lots of water and other nonalcoholic and caffeine-free beverages. Additionally, you may want to consider using a humidifier or warm steam to keep your mucus membranes happy and hydrated.

Do eat well

You’ve likely heard the saying “you are what you eat.” There’s no doubt that what you put into your body can directly affect – for better or worse – how you feel. To give your body the energy it needs to fend off a cold, focus on foods that are nutrient-dense and easy-to-digest like soups, broths, fruits and yogurts.

Do manage symptoms

From a headache and sinus pain to a scratchy and sore throat, a cold can make you feel pretty miserable. To help ease the aches, pains and general discomfort associated with a cold, consider taking over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. To reduce swelling and open nasal passages, you may want to try an oral decongestant or nasal spray. Additionally, an over-the-counter expectorant like Mucinex® with the ingredient guaifenesin can help thin mucus and make your cough more productive.

If you do take any over-the-counter medications, remember to closely follow the package – or your medical provider’s – dosing instructions.

4 cold-promoting don’ts

Don’t overdo cold meds

While it’s ok to take over-the-counter medications for a few days to help manage cold symptoms, you don’t want rely on these meds long term. For example, relying on decongestants for too many days in a row can cause rebound congestion and actually make your symptoms worse.

It’s also a good idea to avoid taking cold meds that treat symptoms you don’t have or that contain ingredients you don’t need. These products are often marketed as treating multiple symptoms or providing maximum relief, but some of the ingredients in these medications can produce negative side effects including dizziness, drowsiness, nervousness and nausea.

Don’t take antibiotics

Colds are caused by viruses, not infections. That means taking antibiotics when you have a cold, won’t help. In fact, it’s dangerous to take antibiotics anytime you don’t need them and doing so can lead to health complications related to antibiotic resistance.

Don’t drink alcohol

It’s always important to take care of your body, but it’s even more important when you have a cold. Yes, you want to drink a lot when you have a cold, however, that doesn’t include alcoholic beverages. In fact, alcohol is a diuretic so it actually works to dehydrate your body. Plus, alcohol can weaken your immune system – which is already working overtime and can’t afford to take another hit.

Don’t expose others

No, life doesn’t stop just because you get a cold. And it can be hard to take time off from work or school. But taking a bunch of cold medicine and carrying on with your normal daily activities isn’t only bad for your health – you can also negatively affect the health of those around you. Cold viruses, like all viruses, are highly contagious. If you’re not feeling well, lay low and rest up for a few days.

How can you be sure it’s just a cold?

Once you get a cold, there’s no quick cure. While there are definitely things you can do to manage symptoms and assist your body in fighting off a cold virus, time is the only truly effective cure. Unfortunately, cold symptoms can linger for one to two weeks. A cold can also develop into other conditions like bronchitis or sinus and ear infections – which may require prescription medications.

Some cold symptoms also overlap with COVID-19 symptoms. So if you come down with a cold, it’s a good idea to test for COVID.

In general, it can be difficult to know if you have a cold, the flu or some other condition. To be safe, it’s a good idea to reach out to a medical provider. You can quickly connect with a provider online through Virtuwell. A provider can assess your symptoms, answer your questions, provide a diagnosis and treatment plan and, if necessary, a prescription – all in about an hour.

Fight against viruses

Let’s be honest, no one likes getting sick and prevention really is the best medicine. To ward off cold viruses, make sure to frequently wash your hands, avoid touching your face and steer clear of people you know are sick. You can also reduce your risk of getting viruses that cause influenza and COVID-19, by getting vaccinated.