A blog by runners. For runners.

How to (really) prevent and treat a cold

treating-and-preventing-the-common-coldThe common cold. It’s a virus we’re all familiar with – the average adult catches two to four colds per year (children suffer from six to eight).

While their symptoms are bothersome, cold viruses are usually harmless to healthy adults. Well, unless you’re a runner and congestion, a sore throat, and a cough strike in the days before your goal race.

Cold prevention
A lot of runners fear being sick on race day. To reduce the risk of illness, many of us overload on Vitamin C in the weeks leading up to the big event. But is this really an effective prevention strategy?

Not according to recent research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Scientists reviewed 67 previously published studies in an effort to learn what really works to prevent and treat a cold.

The gold standard for cold prevention? Handwashing.  A whopping 80 percent of illnesses are transmitted via touch. Germs can be transferred through everyday objects – think doorknobs, elevator buttons, your cell phone – but diseases are most often shared through skin-to-skin contact. The best way to keep yourself from getting sick is to wash your hands often – after using the bathroom, before preparing and eating meals, and after changing a diaper, cleaning up after a pet, caring for someone who is sick, or handling trash or dirty laundry. When soap and warm, running water isn’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead.

Interestingly, the researchers said the old standby Vitamin C was not very effective in preventing colds. Keep in mind this is the main ingredient in products like Airborne and Emergen-C. The experts also didn’t find much support for exercising, gargling, or taking zinc, ginger, or probiotics as an effective means of cold prevention.

Easing cold symptoms
There are tons of supposed cold remedies out there – from old wives’ tales your grandmother swears by to over-the-counter (OTC) meds “guaranteed” to shorten the duration of your illness. Even though medicine has come a long way over the last century or so, there is still no cure for the common cold.

Still, there are several ways to ease your cold symptoms that will help you feel better in the short-term. Taking a combination of a decongestant, pain killer, and antihistamine is your best bet for temporary relief (note these drugs should not be given to young children without first talking to a pediatrician):

  • Decongestants (such as Robitussin) help reduce swelling in the nasal passages and literally help you breathe better.
  • Pain relievers (such as Tylenol and Advil) can alleviate headaches and reduce fevers. Note some medications, like NSAIDs (Aleve), may not be safe to take when running. It’s best to only take acetaminophen (Tylenol) if you’ll be active.
  • Antihistamines (like Benadryl) can help treat sneezing and a runny nose.

Researchers found little to no benefit for using OTC cough remedies, vapor rub, Echinacea, ginseng, Chinese herbs, nasal irrigation, or Vitamin C for treating cold symptoms.

Written by Jen Matz.

Related: Getting back to running after being sick

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