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The Best Treatment for a Cold

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Alright, enough is enough!!  I mean how could I have yet another cold?  I am routinely telling patients with young children that it is not unusual for a child to get 8–10 colds a year, and that seems like at least once a month from September–April.

If you also think that the average cold lasts anywhere from 7–14 days, then it seems like a child has a cold that lasts most of the year. That is how I am feeling right now, 6 weeks into Fall and now on my 3rd cold of the season.

Now, of course my friends are telling me “it is allergies”.  But, like previous blogs, allergies do improve with nasal sprays and  antihistamine and they also have good days and bad days.

A cold usually starts off with a little “sniffles” and maybe a sore throat, and you pray that it is just your imagination, and then over several days you  realize that you now feel “yucky”, have more congestion, the sore throat is still there and you are coughing. That is a cold!!!! That is not allergies, nor is it flu. It is that pesky cold virus of which there are an infinitesimal number, and you have succumbed once again. That is my story!

So, with those symptoms AGAIN, and a day in the media research office, I went back to the literature to see if I could find ANYTHING that might lead me to preventing  a cold, curing a cold or making this nasty thing go away any faster. I mean, I am a busy woman and like everyone else, “I really don’t have time for this!”

There have been thousands of studies done over the years looking at cold symptoms and their prevention. Studies on Vitamin C from the days of Linus Pauling, to more recent studies for prevention and treatment of upper respiratory infections have really found no benefits to taking vitamin C. There was one study that showed taking Vitamin C might reduce the duration of cold symptoms if taken before a cold begins.  My question is, how do you know that you need to start Vitamin C in anticipation of a cold?  Also, too much Vitamin C may cause an upset stomach and diarrhea.

How about Echinacea?  I have been taking Echinacea for years in hopes of “warding off colds”, but the review of the data  showed that Echinacea had no effect in preventing the common cold, studies did show that it might reduce cold symptoms in adults, but studies in children did not produce the same results.  It was also found to increase rashes in those who had eczema (atopy), and allergies to ragweed. I am still taking it, but personally “can’t tell a difference”. You do realize that my opinion alone is not statistically significant.

Then there was the whole zinc movement and there are numerous studies that show conflicting results. Some studies did show that those who took 15 mg of zinc daily had a lower mean number of colds and also a shorter duration of cold symptoms. Other studies did not find a statistical significance for either reducing the number of colds or decreasing symptoms. I have tried all sorts of zinc preparations over the years (even when it was such a hot item I had to order lozenges off of QVC-should I admit that?) and besides tasting horribly I think my cold lasted the same number of days.  Another study of one (not significant), and most would say that the data is still inconclusive.

The hottest new topic is Vitamin D.   A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in early 2009, analyzed information on Vitamin D levels in adult and adolescents.  The results showed that those people with the lowest Vitamin D levels (less than 10 ng/ml) were 36% more likely to report having upper respiratory infections that those with higher Vitamin D levels (above 30 ng/ml).

Vitamin D is also important for bone and general health, so it is a good idea to be making sure that you are getting adequate Vitamin D. The AAP increased the recommended daily intake of Vitamin D to 400 IU.   I am currently taking a Vitamin D supplement in hopes of boosting my immunity as well as keeping my bones healthy. So far, still getting colds

If you have any ideas or PROVEN remedies, potions, concoctions please send them my way. In the meantime, I continue to drink lots of herbal tea, take hot showers and baths to help the congestion, go to bed earlier than usual, suck on my honey throat lozenges and pray. I also wash  my hands incessantly and even resorted to wearing a mask over the last several days in hopes of warding off germs. My patients think I am dressing up for Halloween!

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow (cough)!

Send your comment or question to Dr. Sue.

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