Frugal Tips for Fighting the Common Cold

It's only the beginning of January, but cold and flu season came on early and is shaping up to be one of the most severe in recent years. Doctor's visits for fevers, coughs, and sore throats have spiked in the past several weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A particularly virulent cold can lead to missed work, health insurance copays, and other costs. Ward off potential illness with these common cold remedies and preventive tips.

Common Cold Remedies: The First Line of Defense.

Stopping a cold in its tracks averts harm to both your body and your budget. Arm yourself with simple, affordable or even free remedies the moment that fatigue, congestion, and other symptoms begin to surface.

A fever or runny nose robs the body of water, so drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Avoid mild diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol. The staff at Mayo Clinic recommends water, juice, and hot water with lemon. Clear broth and warm beverages such as tea offer the added benefit of managing emerging symptoms such as sore throat and congestion.

Proper rest is always important, but especially so at this stage, so the body can concentrate most of its energy on fighting viruses and shoring up its natural defenses. Perhaps allow yourself to abdicate some daily responsibilities and take time to rejuvenate.

Conclusions are mixed on the effectiveness of various supplements in preventing colds or reducing their severity and duration. One such supplement is vitamin C, a popular and inexpensive common cold remedy. Several companies market this powerful antioxidant as a tablet or dissolvable powder. Research has shown it relieves symptoms only if taken before the onset of a cold, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The NCCAM, part of the National Institutes of Health, says the jury is also still out on Echinacea and zinc, two other common cold remedies. While they may be worth a try, potential side effects include allergic reactions to Echinacea and nausea from zinc. The Food and Drug Administration has warned consumers to steer clear of nasal remedies that contain zinc, which have been associated with loss of smell -- a long-lasting or permanent condition.

Like most any health issue, fending off a cold also comes down to those old standbys: a well-balanced diet and successful stress management, or simply a positive attitude. ABC News reports on a recent study in which participants who said they more often felt happy or relaxed than depressed or anxious were less likely to come down with a cold. If nothing else, be sure to wash your hands!

Common Cold Remedies: If Things Get Worse.

An abundance of tactics can help thwart common cold viruses. Saline solution, in the form of nasal drops or spray, is a simple but effective aid for decongestion. Purchase it at the store or make it at home with just three ingredients: salt, baking soda, and warm water.

Keep up the fluids and try sipping hot soup to alleviate symptoms. The conventional wisdom is true, according to Mayo Clinic: Chicken soup has been shown to temporarily loosen congestion and act as an anti-inflammatory.

Honey, an inexpensive home remedy, is not only good for soothing a sore throat but is also thought to be a cough suppressant. Other potentially helpful restoratives include garlic, cultured milk products, and ginger root.

A humidifier can work wonders on a sore throat and nasal congestion. If you don't have one, take refuge from the dry winter air in a steaming hot shower or stand over a pot of boiling water. Both simulate the effect of a humidifier.

Still feeling ill? Maybe it's time to try an over-the-counter cold medicine. See our previous post for information on inexpensive common cold remedies available at drugstores. If over-the-counter medicines don't work, symptoms last longer than 10 days, or you develop a fever higher than 100.4 degrees, the CDC advises visiting a healthcare provider.

Teal Pelish

Teal Pelish is Cheapism's in-house web producer. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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