Cold And Flu Remedies: Do They Actually Work?

11/04/2016 8:57 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Anyone who has ever come down with a cold is familiar with the onslaught of advice they are bound to receive the minute they first sneeze in public.

Hoards of well-meaning friends and colleagues will start chirping "eat lots of garlic", "have lemon, honey and ginger in your tea", "go have a sauna," and "sacrifice a newborn goat under the full moon" before you can even reach for a tissue.

But what actually works? And is there any way of stemming a cold if you catch it in its early stages?

"First of all, I want to say when it comes to colds, prevention is always better than the cure," Associate Professor in Microbiology, Reena Ghildyal, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"So I would advise keeping away from the crowded places during the cold season, and, of course, washing your hands regularly. That really is the simplest and most effective way of controlling the cold in a family situation as well as schools, old age homes, and other shared environments."

In terms of the oft-recommended cold treatment of garlic and ginger, Ghildyal says there's no real proof that either work when it comes to knocking a cold on its head.

"In recent times, there have been a couple of trials on whether ginger or garlic help prevent or even reduce the symptoms of the cold," Ghildyal said.

"In some smaller, single trials there seemed to be some suggestion there might be something good happening. But when larger trials were done, there were no significant difference between taking ginger or not or taking garlic or not. It didn’t make a difference at all to the cold."

As for the suggestion to head to a sauna to 'sweat it out', Ghildyal said while the humid air might prove comforting, there was no evidence to suggest it actually had any impact on the cold itself.

"For years, it was thought that hot humid air going into your lungs helped relax them, making it more comfortable for you and reducing the symptoms of the cold," Ghildyal said.

"That is still true in that hot humid air makes you more comfortable, but it doesn’t really do anything to the actual cold. So if you are thinking, 'I’ll have a sauna and that will make me feel better sooner', the answer is probably not, but you will feel a bit more comfortable.

"However the problem then is, who comes in the sauna with you? It's a confined place, making it ideal for spreading your illness around. That’s one of the problems."

Ghildyal suggests such 'treatments' could have more of a comforting factor rather than actually any healing properties, using the traditional lemon, honey and ginger tea as an example.

"I know when I was growing up, whenever we would have a cold or a fever, we would have a warm water with a bit of lemon, ginger and honey in it," Ghildyal said. "I remember that making me feel good, but I don’t know if it actually did anything to ease the cold. It was more of a comfort drink, which is still something really nice to have when you are feeling sick. That’s what a lot of these things are -- comfort. But that's a good thing. I don’t want to lessen their importance.

"Given we don’t have any pharmaceuticals that directly target the cold virus, it’s nice to feel comforted and content."

What is most important, Ghildyal says, is to try to avoid spreading the infection to others, and to try and look after yourself as much as possible until the cold passes.

"Unfortunately, once the cold is coming on, there is not a lot that can be done," Ghildyal said. "What is really important is to keep washing your hands. If you have a runny nose, obviously blow your nose, but do not touch your eyes afterwards. You don't want to spread things around.

"Rest is important, so if you finding you're very uncomfortable when you're trying to sleep, raise up your back, if you can, or put extra pillows under you to raise your head up.

"A cold usually takes a week or two to pass, so unfortunately you will have to ride it out.

"Drink lots of fluids, and if you can, stay home and be comfortable."

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