Yuck, it's that time of year, when, even if you've gotten a flu shot, you can still come down with a cold, the most common of the upper respiratory diseases.
Of course, there are scads of folk remedies, and even prescribed medicines, such as cough medicines, often don't do much for cold symptoms. (Although a UK physician with the International Society for the Study of Cough admits that "alcohol in the form of spirits has been demonstrated to effectively suppress the cough reflex. In adult patients this can be particularly successful for nocturnal cough suppression." In this paper, he also mentions that although dextromethorphan is an effective cough suppressant, the amount used in most over-the-counter preparations is inadequate to relieve symptoms.)
However, there's been little research on the prevention front concerning this common aggravation, until recently. A study to be published in an upcoming Archives of Internal Medicine 2009; 169 (1):8, "Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold," in which subjects were monitored for 14 days--during which they were administered a rhinovirus (cold virus).
The results were striking--study participants who slept less than seven hours were 2.94 times more likely to develop a cold than those who had eight or more hours of sleep. Ouch! According to the study authors, "These relationships could not be explained by differences in prechallenge virus-specific antibody titers, demographics, season of the year, body mass, socioeconomic status, psychological variables, or health practices." They concluded, "Poorer sleep efficiency and shorter sleep duration in the weeks preceding exposure to a rhinovirus were associated with lower resistance to illness."
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More than neti pots...
If you think you might be coming down with a cold anyway, in addition to getting more sleep, what to do? Consider nasal irrigation--which is starting to be taken seriously as a treatment for sinonasal conditions such as rhinitis. In their medical review, "Nasal irrigations: good or bad?," researchers Christopher L. Brown and Scott M. Graham conclude, "Nasal irrigations should no longer be considered merely adjunctive measures in managing sinosal conditions. They are effective and underutilized. Some of the persisting unanswered questions will only be answered by further research."
Seconding that opinion include researchers at the University of Michigan Health System, which released a video on the benefits of nasal irrigation, mentioned as a cheap and easy way for the millions of people who suffer with spring allergies and nasal congestion to get relief for their symptoms.
(The video is called Spring Cleaning...for your nose, which may be unfortunate in that nasal irrigation may prove helpful year round.)