Is there a cure for the common cold?

April 22, 2024

Primary Care Wellness Healthy Aging
Full length shot of a young man sitting on his bed while feeling unwell at home

Remedies that can help you feel better

There’s a reason it’s called a common cold. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that adults have 2 to 3 colds every year, and children have even more.

Colds may be widespread throughout the year, and especially during the winter months, but that doesn’t make them any more pleasant to deal with.

“A cold can bring on many different symptoms – from a runny nose to a sore throat and sometimes, even a fever,” explains Physician Assistant Allison Ovide, PA, a family medicine provider at Riverside Fishing Bay Family Practice in Deltaville, Va. “One of the most frustrating things about a cold is that there is no cure – only at-home remedies and over-the-counter medicines that can help relieve your symptoms.”

Why antibiotics aren’t prescribed for a cold?

Ms. Ovide understands why many patients want an antibiotic to help them start feeling better, faster. The reality is that an antibiotic won’t kill the germs that cause your cold. That’s because antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria that cause infections (like strep throat, urinary tract infections and some respiratory infections).

“Even though viruses and bacteria can cause illnesses that trigger similar symptoms, they are completely different structures,” explains Ms. Ovide. “Think of it this way — you can’t open the door to your home with your car key, and you can’t drive your car with your house key. Those keys may look similar, but they aren’t going to get you where you need to be.”

Taking an antibiotic when you don’t need it can even lead to antibiotic resistance – a serious situation that makes it more difficult to fight off serious illnesses caused by bacteria.

What you can do to get rid of a cold?

Colds typically last anywhere from 7 to 10 days. And, depending on how severe your symptoms are, you may feel miserable for some of that time.

“The only way to really get rid of a cold is to let your immune system get to work,” says Ms. Ovide. “The best thing you can do is take care of yourself, so your body has the energy it needs to get rid of the virus that caused your cold.”

Next time you’re laid out with a cold, try these remedies:

  • Get some rest. Sleep helps your body heal and gives your immune system the energy it needs to fight off cold germs.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. When you’re sick with a cold, drink plenty of water and juice. You can also try warm tea or water to help soothe a sore throat. Just avoid alcohol and caffeine as they can make you dehydrated.
  • Breathe easier. A saline spray can help loosen mucus and congestion in your nose. A humidifier can also help you breathe easier at night and during the day.
  • Try over-the-counter medicine. Pain relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can help relieve the aches that sometimes come with a cold. Cold and cough medicines can also sometimes help ease symptoms. Just remember, they aren’t a cure for the cold, and many have side effects, like drowsiness.   

Still feeling bad? It may be time to see the doctor.

Your doctor won’t be able to prescribe an antibiotic, but they can make sure there is not an underlying illness that’s making your cold symptoms worse. Sometimes, a cold can turn into a secondary infection, like an ear infection, which may need to be treated with an antibiotic.

“If you’re still feeling sick after two weeks or your symptoms seem to be more severe than usual, don’t hesitate to see your doctor,” Ms. Ovide says. “It’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially since other illnesses, like the flu and COVID-19, can sometimes have similar symptoms as the common cold.”

Need an appointment? Schedule with Ms. Ovide or another Riverside provider today! Find a provider near you.

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