How to Prevent a Cold Before It Becomes a Full-Blown Thing

Updated 05/05/19
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a woman coming down with a cold
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This time of year, someone just about sneezes on me and I've got the sniffles and a cough for a week (yes, I'm aware that I probably need to be put in a bubble). Even though you may not be quite as susceptible to illness as I am, it's important to learn how to prevent a cold before it becomes a full-fledged nightmare. Yes, you need to dress properly and eat healthy foods, but beyond that, there are little things that you can do to ensure you won't be missing any holiday parties, belated Friendsgivings, or even that warm-weather getaway you've been seriously waiting for.

Do yourself a favor, and keep up these preventative habits below (and don't just start them up when you feel a hint of illness coming on). Below find eight key tips on how to prevent a cold that you should keep in your back pocket this season (and basically all the time). Stay healthy.

Hydrate Yourself

Keeping yourself hydrated is always important, but even more so in colder months to prevent sickness. Stick to water, tea, and juices, and try to limit your caffeine, if at all possible. Liquids aid your body in flushing out any toxins that may be present at the moment.

Try a Saltwater Gargle

This is a trick passed down through the generations in many families (mine included) that tends to work. As soon as I feel like I'm having a sore throat or a cold coming on, I gargle morning and night with warm (not hot!) water and salt. It takes a bit of time to feel comfortable gargling, but the salt will help loosen any mucus as well as clear allergens or bacteria from your throat, says Philip T. Hagen, MD, editor in chief of the Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies.

Take Some Zinc

My ear, nose, and throat doctor recommended I keep Cold-Eeze lozenges on hand and take them at the first signs of a cold. There's something about zinc that helps cut your symptoms down and ward off illness—one study found that it significantly reduced the number of days school-age students had symptoms. Marc Leavey, MD, a primary care physician, agrees with my doctor. "If I get a scratchy throat and think I might be getting a cold, I pop Cold-Eeze lozenges with zinc for a few days," he says.

Turn to Tea

Whenever I feel sick, I can't stomach my daily coffee. The good news is that black or green tea makes a great substitute and has some pretty awesome health benefits, especially if you add some lemon and honey. "Drinking the tea and breathing in steam stimulates the cilia—the hair follicles in the nose—to move out germs more efficiently," says Murray Grossan, MD, ear, nose, and throat specialist at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. "Lemon thins mucus, and honey is antibacterial."

Wash Hands Often

We know how important it is to wash our hands after we touch the escalator handle or basically anything on public transportation (I'm talking about you, New York City subways). But you should also be mindful of sanitizing them after shaking peoples' hands. In fact, you should wash them as much as possible, says Mark Mengel, MD, chair of community and family medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

Catch Some Extra Z's

My body basically just shuts down when I'm sick, allowing me to sleep way more than the normal seven to eight hours. If you're starting to feel run down, one of the best things you can do is schedule yourself a little bit more time for rest. "Sleep is my most reliable defense against infection," says David Katz, founder of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and author of Disease-Proof. "Research shows that our bodies need seven to eight hours of sleep in order to stimulate an immune response from our 'natural killer cells,' which attack viruses."

Exercise Regularly

There are a ton of reasons to work out on the regular, and now you can add sickness prevention to your list. The next time you try to cancel your day at the gym, remember that you're doing your body some serious good by moving. Working out a few times a week increases your immune function, says Ann G. Kulze, MD, CEO, and founder of Dr. Ann and Just Wellness.

Treat Yourself to a Massage

As if we needed one more reason to book a massage, apparently it helps keep colds at bay as well. "I receive massages once a month to increase my circulation, which boosts immunity by nourishing cells with more oxygen and blood," says massage therapist Christine Nelson. "It also makes me relaxed and less stressed, and when you're less stressed, you're less likely to be a germ magnet."

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