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How can I prevent a cold?

Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, MD
Allergist & Immunologist

The following strategies have been shown in various studies to help you reduce your need for boxes and boxes of facial tissues and just in general feeling "lousy" for a week or so after succumbing to the "common cold":

  • Getting enough sleep and rest can help you and your immune system—not an easy task in our multi-tasking society.
  • A healthful diet abundant in (colorful) fruits and vegetables with their numerous phytonutrients can't hurt, according to some researchers. Believe it or not, there is even a study finding "chicken soup" can perhaps help to fight a cold.
  • Ask your health care provider to measure your Vitamin D level and make recommendations on an appropriate daily dosage for you. Studies have linked lower levels of Vitamin D with more getting colds more frequently and conversely, those in the same study that had higher levels may be associated with significantly fewer colds.
  • Wash those hands. Know the "happy birthday" song; in other words, if you can recite this song, then you have adequately spent enough time washing your hands with warm, soapy water.
  • When soap and water and a faucet is not available, use alcohol hand sanitizer (60 percent or greater concentration) to try and kill cold germs on your hands and fingers.
  • Stay home if you are spewing forth with cold germs via sneezing, runny nose and coughing. You will be doing your friends, colleagues, classmates and co-workers a big favor!
  • Use facial tissues, not your hands, when you sneeze and try not to rub your nose and eyes to reduce transmission of viral particles that cause colds.

Internal medicine specialist Dr. Keri Peterson explains how you can avoid catching a cold. Watch Dr. Peterson's video for information on health and wellness.

If people are sick in the office, remember to wash your hands frequently and consider wearing a small mask. Little paper surgical masks block germy particles from getting into your mouth and nose. You can find them at most pharmacies or medical supply stores.

Washing hands, getting adequate sleep, eating a diet rich in citrus fruits and keeping stress levels low can help reduce your susceptibility to cold viruses. A 2013 study in the Annals of Family Medicine suggests that regular exercise coupled with regular meditation may be almost as effective as a flu vaccine’s impact on the immune system.

Most provocative in the study were the findings that exercise alone or meditation alone did have a positive impact on health. Exercise seemed to reduce the number of episodes of a cold infection. Meditation seemed to decrease the severity of the infection. When the two modalities are combined with regularity, the “one-two” punch was an overall reduction in both frequency and severity of colds.

To lower your chances of catching a cold, avoid large crowds or places where many people are sick. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently. Avoid sharing personal items such as drinks, towels, and pillows. Eat a well-balanced diet and get an adequate amount of sleep every night. Also, try to avoid emotional stress by utilizing coping skills and learning stress management.

This answer provided for NATA by the Southern Connecticut State University Athletic Training Education Program.

Dr. Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

Good hand-washing is key to preventing both colds and the flu.  So try not to touch your face, eyes, nose and mouth during this cold and flu season without washing your hands since this is how viruses can be transmitted. Cover your sneezes and cough with the inside crook of your elbow (if you don’t have a tissue). Throw out used tissues immediately. But the best way to prevent the flu and any complications that can develop from it, such as pneumonia, is to get a yearly vaccination. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot.

In aggregate, studies demonstrate physical interventions such as hand washing reduce the risk and transmission of common colds. Studies in children have demonstrated that use of zinc can help reduce the number of colds contracted in one year and most experts believe this benefit is likely to be conferred to adults. Using probiotics has been associated with reduced number of upper respiratory tract infections in both adults and children. Interestingly, there is one good study demonstrating simply gargling with water every day can help prevent colds for those in general good health.  For those people under physical stress such as marathon runners or hikers in subarctic climates, vitamin C may provide some benefit. However, it is important to note there was no benefit of Vitamin C for the average person. The jury is still out on whether garlic, elderberry, or homeopathy are helpful in preventing colds, and neither vitamin D nor Echinacea is effective for cold prevention.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.