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Additional Information From NIAID

Common Cold

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There are several ways you can keep yourself from getting a cold or passing one on to others:

  • Because cold viruses on your hands can easily enter through your eyes and nose, wash your hands often and keep your hands away from those areas of your body.
  • If possible, avoid being close to people who have colds.
  • If you have a cold, avoid being close to people.
  • When you sneeze or cough, cover your nose or mouth and sneeze or cough into your elbow rather than your hand.


Handwashing with soap and water is the simplest and one of the most effective ways to keep from getting colds or giving them to others. During cold season, you should wash your hands often and teach your children to do the same. When water isn’t available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using alcohol-based products made for disinfecting your hands.


Rhinoviruses can live up to 3 hours on your skin. They also can survive for up to 3 hours on objects such as telephones and stair railings. Cleaning these environmental surfaces in your home or place of work with a virus-killing disinfectant when people have colds might help prevent the spread of infection.


Because so many different viruses can cause the common cold, the outlook for developing a vaccine that will prevent spreading of all of them is quite a challenge. Scientists, however, continue to search for a solution to this problem.

Alternative medicines


Echinacea is a dietary herbal supplement that some people use to treat their colds. Researchers have done studies on how exhinacea works in treating and preventing the common cold, but results have been mixed. Some researcher have found that the herb may help treat a cold if taken in the early stages, but others found that it had no effect.

Three large studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, found that echinacea did not reduce the severity or length of the common cold.

Vitamin C

Many people are convinced that taking large quantities of vitamin C will prevent colds or relieve symptoms. To test this theory, researchers have done several large-scale, controlled studies involving children and adults. So far, the data have not shown conclusively that large doses of vitamin C prevent colds. The vitamin may reduce the severity or length of symptoms, but there is no clear evidence of this effect.

In addition, taking large amounts of vitamin C over long periods of time in large amounts may be harmful. Too much vitamin C can cause severe diarrhea, a particular danger for elderly people and small children.


Some people use honey to treat coughs and to soothe a sore throat. A study conducted at the Penn State College of Medicine compared the effectiveness of a little bit of buckwheat honey before bedtime with that of either no treatment or dextromethorphan (DM), the cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cold medicines. The results of this study suggest that honey may be useful to relieve coughing, but researchers need to do additional studies.

You should never give honey to children under 1 year of age because of the risk of infantile botulism, a serious disease.


Zinc lozenges and lollipops are available over the counter as a remedy for the common cold. However, evidence of their effectiveness has been mixed. A recent review analyzing a series of clinical trials suggests that zinc may slightly reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold in otherwise healthy people, but the use of zinc lozenges was also associated with an increased risk of side effects such as nausea. Variations in the formulation of lozenges and the amount of zinc they contain also it difficult for health experts to make firm recommendations. Researchers need to do more studies to help find out how much zinc is the most effective, and whether zinc is helpful in all circumstances.

In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to stop using intranasal (in the nose) zinc products because some people reported a loss of smell after using these products.

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Last Updated April 13, 2011