Sick? Here Are 5 Ways to Hack Your Cold

Angela Cabotaje Fact Checked
© Bor Cvetko / Stocksy United

A sniffle here, a scratchy throat there. Hate to break it to you, but it sounds like you’ve been #blessed with a cold. 

You’re definitely not alone in your daze of tissues and cough drops. Adults average two to three colds per year, with each stint of sickness lasting around a week or so. Talk about a buzzkill.

What’s to thank for this lovely bout of sinus congestion? That would be a virus. These little infectious agents cause colds, so antibiotics and steroids won’t help — in fact, they might make you feel worse. Other medications like decongestants, cough suppressants and good old aspirin could help you feel better, but they only treat the symptoms and won’t get rid of the cold itself.

While researchers are trying to develop a cure for viral infections — cue the confetti cannons! — until they succeed, the only thing you can do if you get sick is wait it out.

Before you start stockpiling cough syrup like it’s discounted LaCroix, there are some simple health hacks you can try to see if they help you feel better. The scientific jury is still out on these home remedies, but they might provide you with some much-needed relief. 

Take your supplements

At the first indications that she’s getting sick — for example, a body ache or a scratchy throat — Anne-Marie Gloster, M.P.H., Ph.D., a professor in the nutritional sciences program at University of Washington School of Public Health, opts for zinc as an initial line of defense. Gloster takes 50 milligrams of zinc with food to try to reduce the severity of her oncoming illness.

Normal doses of vitamin C and echinacea are also worth a try, says Matthew Thompson, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., a family medicine practitioner at the UW Neighborhood Northgate Clinic in Seattle. They can be just as effective as any over-the-counter medication in helping alleviate your symptoms, he notes.

Raid your pantry

Some everyday food items can also help you show that unpleasant cold who’s boss. And if you’re awesome at adulting, you may even have these things in your kitchen already. If not, don’t worry — just grab those reusable shopping bags for a speedy trip to the grocery store.

“Honey has really got some great evidence that it helps to shorten coughs and colds slightly,” Thompson says.

Gloster, on the other hand, swears by raw garlic as another way to recover more quickly from being sick. To head off a recent cold, she took zinc and ate raw garlic as soon as she felt under the weather. The result? Gloster says she was much better as soon as four days later.

Chug that chicken soup

OK, you don’t have to chug it. Still, sipping chicken soup and other warm beverages like your favorite lemon-ginger tea can soothe a sore throat and keep you hydrated when your body needs it the most.

Although it’s not scientifically proven, chicken soup has been said to have anti-inflammatory effects that can ease symptoms like coughing and congestion in your throat and airways. One study found that chicken soup was more effective than hot water alone in loosening up that gunk in your nose. More research still needs to be done but, at the very least, chicken soup is a nutrient-dense food that may be easier to stomach when you’re feeling less than stellar.

Sweat it out

Lacing up those running shoes and going for a jog around Green Lake may be the last thing you want to do when you feel like the plague, but working up a sweat does have its benefits.

“There’s some evidence that mild exercise can help prevent colds and make them go away a little bit quicker,” Thompson says. 

Plus, if you get your exercise in today, that means you get to sleep in tomorrow, right? The most important thing to remember here is to listen to your body. If you start to feel dizzy or unwell, stop and take a break.

Get some rest

Speaking of sleeping in… A silver lining to this whole sick situation is that you have the perfect excuse to curl up in bed and catch some additional zzzs. (No complaints here.)

Sleeping and getting plenty of rest while you have a cold gives your body time and energy to fight the virus. In fact, a lack of sleep can actually result in poorer immune function and make you more susceptible to catching a cold in the first place. So if you ever need a valid reason to drop everything and take a nap, this is it.

Not everything will work for everyone

While some people swear by these home remedies and believe they prevent them from feeling like zombies when sick, keep in mind that not everything will pay off for every person.

“We’re all individuals, and what works for me may not work for somebody else,” Gloster says. 

If chowing down on cloves of garlic just doesn’t do it for you and your cold, you can always opt for tried-and-true medications like antihistamines, decongestants, cough suppressants and over-the-counter pain relievers to treat your symptoms. Still, hitting the treadmill and downing honey is worth a shot if it means spending fewer nights sounding like a freight train, amirite?