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Hands up if you’ve seen the advert with dancing antibiotics? It’s the latest campaign from NHS England warning that overusing antibiotics can be really harmful to our bodies in the long run, and it’s a particularly important message at this time of year. As the weather gets colder, everybody is more inclined to stay indoors and the combination of confined spaces and recirculated air means that at some point or another, you’re going to get a cold.
Health experts warn that you should not use antibiotics to treat a cold, but with sniffling commuters and your office air con, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re going to catch one sooner or later.
But how do you get rid of a cold overnight? How do you get rid of a blocked nose? And can you get rid of a cold before it starts?
Luckily you don’t have to suffer and sniffle in silence–but first, it’s important to work out whether you’re the victim of a common cold or the flu.
Cold vs flu – what are the symptoms you should be looking out for?
Both are classed as respiratory illnesses, and they often have very similar symptoms. However, they’re easy to mix up. To clarify which you’re suffering from, here are the most common symptoms of each:
Common cold symptoms
- A runny or blocked nose
- Frequently sneezing
- Sore throat and/or coughing
Common flu symptoms
- Fever, or a temperature of 38 degrees or higher
- Muscle ache, joint pain and tiredness
- Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhoea
- More acute versions of the above cold symptoms
There is some overlap with cold and flu symptoms, but the NHS website states that the main differences between the two are that flu symptoms tend to come on very quickly and usually include a fever and aching muscles, whereas symptoms of a cold will come on gradually and mainly affect your nose and throat.
How to get rid of a cold fast overnight
Dr Dan Robertson, Medical Officer at Push Doctor, has a bad news for anyone hoping to clear a cold in 24 hours.
“Sadly, it’s not possible to get rid of a cold overnight – that’s not how colds work!” he explains.
“To recover, your body needs to stimulate an immune system response, kill the virus and repair itself. This takes time and there isn’t really any way to rush it.
“The best thing you can do is relieve the symptoms of a cold until the virus is out of your system. Nasal sprays, paracetamol and staying hydrated can all help.”
If you would prefer an alternative or natural way to ease your symptoms, western medical herbalist Marie Mulcahy suggests a tisane footbath.
“Dunk your feet in a strong infusion of herbs,” she suggests. You can use either fresh or dried herbs – if fresh leaf, use three teaspoons. If dried, use two teaspoons of the following:
- Crushed garlic
- Thyme and rosemary
“Make a strong infusion by pouring boiling water over the herbs. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes with a cover on top, as this will bring all the essential oils and the active plant ingredients out of the herbs.
“When cool enough to put your feet in, pour into a bowl with the tisane and steep your feet for 10-15 mins. Do three times a day.”
Marie also suggests using the above mixture as a drinkable herbal tea, which you can consume throughout the day.
How to get rid of a blocked nose
You know the feeling; it’s the early stages of a cold and you’re bunged up with a horrible head cold, trying to get to sleep, but whatever side you turn onto one side of your nose is completely and utterly blocked. Don’t assume the only solution is dousing yourself in a tub of Vicks VapoRub – there are plenty of things you can do to clear that nasal passage.
Try taking a hot shower to temporarily relieve a stuffy nose, as the steam could help to drain the mucus. Applying a warm, wet flannel to the face can ease congestion, and for an extra boost add some fresh sliced ginger to the water before soaking your washcloth.
Alternatively, you can try drinking plenty of water (some swear by adding a teaspoon of vinegar), giving yourself a facial massage or chewing on some horseradish.
How to get rid of a sore throat
If your throat feels like it’s been rubbed with sandpaper and you’re eager for relief, choose what medication you buy wisely.
“You can pick up painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen from your local pharmacy – these usually work just as well as the more expensive products,” Dr Dan Robertson advises.
“If it’s really painful, ask for lozenges that contain flurbiprofen. These will provide a local anti-inflammatory that can reduce pain within 10 minutes.”
For a natural solution, Marie has a recipe for her fire mix. You’ll need the following ingredients:
- Two teaspoons of dried sage leaves
- 200ml of boiling water
- Small sliced cayenne pepper or a pinch of dried chilli powder
- Two tablespoons of good quality honey (raw or Manuka is best as it has the most antibacterial, anti-viral properties)
- Pinch of sea salt
- A tablespoon of apple cider vinegar organic is key
“This is a great natural remedy for infection. Mix the sage and Cayenne or chilli powder in a jug and pour over the water,” she explains. “Leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes, and add the salt. Add the honey and vinegar, and stir well.
“Gargle this three times a day, or put it cold into a small spray bottle that you can use throughout the day to spray on the back of your throat.”
How to get rid of a cold overnight without medicine
Remember when you were younger and your nan would tell you to eat chicken soup when you had a cold? There are so many easy and natural remedies you can put together yourself to fight a cold without having to head for the medicine cabinet as soon as you start to sniffle. If you’d rather not rely on medicine, take a look at these alternative measures to relieve your symptoms and get you fighting fit in no time.
Try oil pulling
No, it’s not just to whiten and brighten your teeth – it’s an antimicrobial. The remedy, based in the ancient practice of Ayurveda, uses coconut oil to pull the germs from your mouth. Swill a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth for one minute, making sure you suck it through your teeth and don’t leave out your gums. Spit it out and rinse your mouth with warm water
Eat garlic and vegetable soups
Not necessarily together, but it’s a good way to get a double dose of wellness. Garlic is thought to have antiviral properties, and health experts claim it can boost your immune system. Getting two to four cloves into your diet a day can really help, as can having a bowl of hot, vegetable or chicken soup. See? Your nan wasn’t making things up.
Take a hot bath
A steamy bath or shower will ease nasal congestion and help to relax your body. Adding a few drops of peppermint oil will open your airways to help with a stuffy head.
Eat raw honey
Like garlic, its anti-viral properties can boost your immune system. A raw spoonful is not only a sweet treat when you’re feeling poorly, but in a cup of hot water with lemon it’ll also ease any soreness in your throat. It’s win, win.
Should you workout if you have a cold?
Ah, the question that often yields conflicting answers. Dr Dan Robertson wants you to know that while a common cold might be draining, it doesn’t have to mean your training regime needs to take a hit.
“Keeping your exercise regime going is important, but it’s more important not to push yourself too hard, as this can potentially make symptoms worse and delay your recovery,” he says.
“You might have to scale down your usual routine and stick to gentle exercise that ensures you don’t get too out of breath.”
So what are your options?
“If you’re worried that you’re not well enough, you should discuss this with a GP. Generally speaking though, if you’re well enough to go to work, you’re well enough do some gentle exercise.
“Stick to gentle activities you can take at your own pace, such as swimming.”
How to get rid of a cold before it starts
If you manage to navigate winter without getting a cold, it’s not just commendable –it’s a miracle. However, there are things that you can do all year round to make sure that if common colds do come your way your body is prepared, making the whole thing that little bit more bearable.
Government guidelines advise that you meet your 10mg vitamin D target throughout the year. Whether you opt for pill supplements or sprays, topping up your vitamin D levels will make you less likely to catch common colds when the winter months roll around.
Filling your body with nutrient-dense foods, fresh fruits and vegetables will support your immune system, and prioritising sleep will ensure your body is at full capacity when fighting off viruses.
The last, extra measure is to make sure you wash your hands regularly and carry a sanitiser to keep the germs at bay.
And one final piece of advice from Dr Dan?
“From a medical perspective, antibiotics will never work for a cold, as it’s caused by a virus, not bacteria!”
So now you’re more than prepared for every snotty stranger and germy handrail this winter. Familiarise yourself with the stages of a cold, then move on.