How to treat a cold: six ways to help speed up recovery time

How to treat a cold expert advice

How are you feeling today? Better than I have been, I hope! I seem to be succumbing to one cold straight after another. So is the husband… While I’m grateful I’ve had nothing worse (I battled COVID – again – last October and went down with flu over Christmas) the common cold can be surprisingly debilitating. The most common symptoms are a blocked/runny nose, a high temperature, sneezing, a sore throat, headache, and muscle aches. All of which can make us absolutely miserable, sapping energy and spoiling precious plans. Is there a solution? Read on to discover my research into how to treat a cold; the best strategies to avoid infection; and why so many persistent colds are circulating in the first place!

Cold treatments
If you’re going to be ill, do it in style! What do you think of my new Art Deco Green Tissue Box Cover, £29.99, from Crackpots?

Lockdown payback

Before I explore how to treat a cold, I do think it’s helpful to know a bit more about what causes them, and how our immune systems react to infection. As you’d expect, during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when social mixing didn’t happen, seasonal colds and flu virtually disappeared. That’s because the viruses that caused them simply couldn’t spread. Naturally, being cold-free was celebrated at the time. However, this meant that the natural infection process that keeps our collective immune responses working efficiently went into decline. The result? A type of immune “amnesia”, which means we’re now succumbing to a series of infections we’d previously have kicked into touch.

While it might feel like we’re battling the same persistent cough or cold, we’re more likely encountering a rapid succession of different respiratory viruses, which at present our immune systems just aren’t sufficiently primed to counter. In short, we’re out of practice. And while our immunity plays catch-up, we’re catching everything instead.

Cosy hot water bottle for a cold
I’m loving my new cosy hot water bottle burgandy ochre lilac stripe from WeeWoollies, which I’ve enjoyed snuggling up to while treating my cold

Hand hygiene

While our prevention options are limited, we need to focus more on how to treat a cold instead. That said, I’ll most definitely be prioritising good hand hygiene. It’s still the simplest and easiest way of preventing the spread of infection. I make a real effort to wash my hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds. And I never leave home without a bottle of hand sanitiser (and a moisturising hand cream)!

Nasal hygiene

Never given much thought to nasal hygiene? Neither had I before this winter’s onslaught of illness. But it’s now top of my list in terms of how to treat a cold. As a highly effective filter for your body, the nose is your first line of defence. So it makes sense to help it defend you against airborne allergens and germs. Keeping your nose clean, clear and moisturised really can make a huge difference.

I’ve recently started using Stérimar™ Breathe Easy Daily and Stérimar Congestion Relief. It’s early days, but I do think these products seem to be working. The former helps to prevent colds by naturally clearing and cleansing the nose. The latter works by rapidly decongesting the nose, providing relief from colds and sinusitis, which is common following flu.

Sterimar congestion relief for how to treat a cold
Made with 100% natural sea water – and free from drugs and preservatives – Stérimar™ is the UK’s no.1 GP-recommended non-medicated nasal spray brand

Expert endorsement

Dr Zoe Williams, This Morning’s TV Doctor (and GP) is also a fan. “It’s all well and good trying to support your immune system to help fight against infection, but it is equally important, if not more so, to take measures to stop germs entering your body in the first place,” she explains. “The nose is one of the first lines of defence of our immune system and good nasal hygiene can help to keep the nasal passages clear, meaning your nose can do its job properly, including making you less vulnerable to infections and viruses.”

Dr Zoe adds: “Using a saline water-based product, such as Stérimar™ Breathe Easy, can help to naturally clear and cleanse the nose, eliminating impurities and helping to prevent colds. If you’re already suffering, Stérimar™ Congestion Relief can rapidly decongest the nose by washing out nasal cavities.”

Dr Zoe Williams
This Morning’s TV doctor Zoe Williams is a big fan of the brand, Stérimar™, as am I

Steam heat

Another strategy you may find helpful in terms of how to treat a cold is steaming. It won’t kill viruses and bacteria, or stop infection in its tracks (alas). But inhaling steam can help to loosen any mucus in your nasal passages, and ease congestion. It can soothe a sore throat too.

At the low-tech end of the scale, you can simply try a hot shower or bath, or even inhale steam over a bowl. These options aren’t always practical, however, which is why I recently invested in this Vicks sinus inhaler to help ease my cold. It’s lightweight, compact and adjustable. I’m using mine on a side table while I’m sat on my sofa watching TV!

Vicks Sinus Inhaler for how to treat a cold
A steam inhaler can deliver prompt and practical relief from multiple cold systems, especially coughs and congestion

Expert advice

Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy explains the benefits of steam further: “One very effective way of relieving these symptoms is the use of steam inhalation. This is not a new idea – the Romans used steam inhalations in 400 -500 AD to treat asthma. Inhaling steam can help adults suffering from a variety of different upper and lower respiratory infections such as colds, sinusitis, laryngitis, bronchitis, bronchiolitis and allergies. Steam inhalation is currently recommended for the symptomatic treatment of colds by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

“Whereas there is no evidence that steam kills respiratory viruses, it can loosen mucus, and soothe inflammation in the airways. This helps to improve a sore throat, a hoarse voice,  a cough, and fend off episodes of sinusitis. Inhaling steam rehydrates the airways, which can be dry especially in the winter due to central heating. The water vapour thins respiratory mucus, facilitating its removal. Steam can relax the throat muscles and dampen the cough reflex. It has also been shown to relieve anxiety and help you sleep better.”

Eat yourself well

There’s no shortage of evidence to suggest that following a healthy, balanced diet can help us to recover faster from colds. We all know that we should consume a varied selection of fresh fruit and vegetables every day, and avoid sugary, fatty, highly processed foods. However, a good supplement can complement your body’s natural defensive arsenal.

I’ve recently bolstered my balanced diet with this Well Actually Immune Defence Duo – Liposomal Vitamin C + Vitamin D3 & K2 Liquid (2 x 150ml). It features a blend of powerhouse vitamins known for supporting the body’s immune system. A great alternative to standard pill supplements, I like how you can take these liquids straight from the spoon, or mix into water to create a vitamin-infused immunity drink. They taste absolutely delicious, too. Importantly, this duo is vegan and vegetarian-friendly, free from gluten and soy, non-GMO and contains no added sugars or sweeteners.

Essential vitamins for how to treat a cold
Certain vitamins, such as Vit C, Vit D and K2, are known for their ability to help the body fight off all sorts of infection, including colds and flu

In praise of probiotics

On a related note, I also think it’s worth exploring the role probiotics can play in terms of how to treat a cold. In simple terms, probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts (‘good’ microorganisms) found in certain food products. It’s thought that they benefit our health by improving the balance of the gut bacteria. Maintaining a healthy gut flora is really important to our overall health, and may help us recover faster from illnesses such as colds and flu.

Most people associate probiotics with yoghurt drinks, but there are other options. I’m fast becoming a big fan of this Organic Chilli & Dill Raw Sauerkraut from The Cultured Food Company. I’ve even converted the husband too! This sauerkraut is traditionally fermented, unpasteurised and rich in beneficial bacteria. We each eat a tablespoon every day. It’s really tasty – try it in sandwiches, as a topping, or as a side with a main meal.

the benefits of raw sauerkraut for how to treat a cold
To strengthen your immune systems and ward off constant colds, eat the rainbow, with a topping of raw sauerkraut – a super versatile (and tasty way) to introduce a probiotic to your diet

Sleep yourself better

The next item on my list of ‘how to treat a cold’ strategies is getting plenty of rest. I must admit I find this easier said than done, as I love to keep busy. But I’m determined to make more of an effort to get to bed earlier.

When we sleep, our bodies release proteins called cytokines, which help to fight off infection and aid recovery. Prolonged sleep deprivation is also associated with chronic inflammation, a contributory factor for many serious health conditions and long-term health issues.

Clean air

My final recommendation for how to treat a cold involves an air purifier. Now, I must be honest and admit I haven’t tried one yet. But I think it’s an interesting area, and a logical tactic to try in my current war on colds. I’ve got my eye on this Blueair Blue 3210 model, which performed really well in a recent Ideal Home magazine buying guide. The theory is that air purifiers like this kill germs and remove viruses and bacteria, which can be spread through airborne transmission. Increased ventilation and clean air circulation can dilute airborne contaminants, and make a meaningful impact on the indoor spread of diseases. If you’ve tried one, do let me know what you think!

I can’t promise that house cleaning will keep colds and flu at bay – but click here to discover how it can help to improve your general mental and physical health.

AD: Big thanks to all the brands who have collaborated with me to make this blog possible.