Ask twenty people what they do for themselves when they catch a cold and chances are you’ll get twenty different answers. That’s because there is no cure for a cold, only treatments to suppress the symptoms. The proverbial wisdom still applies: Treat a cold and it will be gone in a week; don’t treat it and it will last seven days!
Most of the treatments used today are only slightly more effective, in fact, than the cold remedies of yore. The ancient Chinese recommended eating snakeskin. British soldiers advised wrapping a fresh-off-the-foot sock around the throat at night. Sir William Osier, a famous English physician of the early twentieth century, suggested hanging a hat on the bedpost, getting into bed, and drinking whiskey until you see two hats. The treatment did little for the cold, but perhaps made the patient less aware of his discomfort.
There are some cautionary tales when trying to cope with upper respiratory infections. Most important, perhaps, is the questionable wisdom of treating the symptoms. Since symptoms like fever and cough represent the body’s efforts to cure itself, some practitioners say these signs of healing should not be suppressed unless they introduce further threats to health. Unless fever goes above, say, 102°F and a cough disrupts sleep, it may be best to let them run their course.