4 Science-Backed Ways to Get Over a Cold Faster

Stop sniffling sooner with these tips.

When you first start feeling sick—that scratchy feeling that precedes a sore throat, and the beginning of what will feel like infinite sniffles—you'll likely want to figure out exactly what's making you ill. Is it COVID, RSV, or the common cold? It might surprise you to learn that in fact, all three of those qualify as cold viruses.

"Colds are minor infections of the nose and throat caused by more than 200 different viruses," explains the American Lung Association. "Rhinovirus is the most common cause, accounting for 10 to 40 percent of colds, [and] other common cold viruses include coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)."

Not all cold viruses are created equal, of course, and the American Lung Association advises contacting your healthcare provider if you experience severe symptoms, high fever, ear or sinus pain, a cough that worsens even when the cold gets better, or if you have a chronic condition like asthma.

If it's "just" a common cold—and adults will have approximately two to four colds a year, with children averaging even more—you will want to get rid of it pronto. But with all the cold remedies out there like nasal sprays and dirty socks (yes, dirty socks were once actually considered a cold remedy, among other archaic, ineffectual, and downright disturbing approaches to wellness), how do you know what will actually work? Read on to find out about four science-backed ways for getting over your cold as quickly as possible.

READ THIS NEXT: This One Supplement Reduces Your Severe Flu Risk by 90 Percent, Study Says.

Get your C on.

Sliced oranges and vitamin C tablets.

Some people think of vitamin C as a magic bullet when it comes to colds, and it can come in handy—but perhaps not in the way you think. Research is mixed, but the National Center for Complementary Integrative Health (NCCIH) reports that while vitamin C will not prevent or cure colds, taking the supplement regularly has been shown to reduce the length of a cold, as well as the severity of its symptoms.

"Make sure you're getting enough vitamin C," advises Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead at Treated.com. "This helps to make sure your immune system is working at peak strength so you can fight off infections faster."

Again, the key word here is regularly. Popping some chewables or drinking orange juice once your cold is already in play will not, unfortunately, be helpful. "In studies in which people took vitamin C only after they got a cold, vitamin C did not improve their symptoms," says the NCCIH. And taking too much vitamin C can make you sick, so be sure to follow guidelines or talk to your provider.

Get enough sleep.

Woman sleeping in bed.
Adene Sanchez / iStock

If you're told to "rest up" while you have a cold, it may come across like well-meaning, yet meaningless, advice. But "you really do need extra sleep when you're not feeling well because of a cold or the flu," Neelam Taneja-Uppal, MD tells Everyday Health, also pointing out that this can be especially helpful if you have a low-grade fever with your cold (or a high fever related to an illness like the flu). "Sleep helps your body fight the infection that's causing you to feel ill," Taneja-Uppal said.

How does sleep help boost your immune system response? "Cytokines, which are a type of protein in your immune system that target infections, are produced and released during sleep," Healthline explains. In addition, your immune system "needs energy to function." "When you're awake, your body needs to direct energy to activities like thinking or moving around [and when] you're sleeping, your body can redirect that energy to your immune system so you can get better as quickly as possible," advises the site.

Stay hydrated—and add some honey.

Tea with honey.

Drinking enough water is crucial to our overall health, so you should hydrate consistently even if you're feeling in tip-top shape. But if you have a cold, you have an extra reason to stay hydrated: Drinking lots of water "helps our body to push out mucus and phlegm that builds up through some types of infection, so that it doesn't sit there causing discomfort," says Atkinson.

When you're fighting a cold, it's especially helpful to drink hot herbal tea with some honey mixed in. Healthline notes that in addition to being very comforting, "a cup of hot tea can soothe a sore throat and break up congestion. "Research hasn't yet established that any one tea can help clear up the common cold," says the site. "However, plenty of evidence suggests that some herbal tea ingredients may ease respiratory infection symptoms."

And honey isn't just a sweetener—it's also considered a cold remedy and cough suppressant in its own right. "Stirring a bit of honey into your favorite herbal tea may loosen phlegm, soothe pain and soreness, and suppress a cough," says Healthline.

For more health news sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Sip some soup.

Hearty bowl of chicken and vegetable soup.
Angelika Heine/iStock

It's not always easy to eat healthy when you have a cold—congestion, coughing, and aching limbs can put a damper on your appetite—but it's important. "Hot soup is your friend," says Atkinson. "This is an easy way to get the goodness from vegetables into your body, and the warmer you are, the better able your immune system will be to fight off infection."

Melissa Bailey, RD, explains to Penn Medicine News why soup can be so helpful. "Though vegetables often lose some of their nutritional value during boiling, steaming and the subsequent draining they undergo after cooking, including them in a soup is a great way to help them maintain healthful attributes," Bailey told the site, pointing out that vitamins and minerals in certain soups can help accelerate your recovery. "The sodium in the recipe helps relieve sore throat pain (the same principle behind gargling warm salt water), the heat helps clear nasal congestion, and can relieve pain and sinus pressure."

Luisa Colón
Luisa Colón is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Latina, and many more. Read more
Filed Under