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Surviving Colds: A Guide

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If you're like me, colds are not just a mild inconvenience. They're a full-blown assault on your immune system, leaving you feeling like you've been run over by a herd of elephants. I'm no stranger to the runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and general misery that comes with a cold. In fact, I'm so good at getting sick that I spent 7 weeks of 2019 with a fever, like as an adult, with no kids to bring home anything. That's 13% of my life this year! But fear not, I've learned a thing or two about surviving colds, and I'm here to share my counterattack playbook with you.

WARNING: Before we continue, if you're one of those people like my wife who use, like, a single tissue per cold and then are confused why their spouse (who will need 2-3 boxes) complains about being sick, just leave now. Unless you've had your nose literally drip in front of multiple strangers because you just can't stop the faucet that is your nasal mucous membrane, thank your lucky stars for your great immune system and GTFO!


What's the safest way to go skiing? Don't ski!

I know this is practically cheating in a survival guide, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless. Several steps taken before you have a cold can do wonders for your suffering during the cold and possibly even avoid one altogether.

Unless you're a professional athlete or wartime solider, taking vitamin C supplements won't reduce your risk of catching a cold1, but when taken at the first sign of illness there is some (inconsistent) evidence that high-dose vitamin C can reduce the severity and duration of your cold. It's a low cost and low risk intervention, and, let's face it, when I'm sick, it's hail mary time, so why not, amirite? I tend to start vitamin C supplements ~5 days before any big event that I'm likely to get sick from and/or would be catastrophic to be very ill during. For example, a big family vacation or work conference.

The other protip I have here for prevention is to stay ontop of your seasonal allergies. If you're getting bad colds, chances are you also suffer from some seasonal allergies as well. If your starting point is pretty stuffed up or sneezy, getting a cold is only going to be that much worse. Do yourself a favor and keep your seasonal allergies in check, snort that Flonase, double up on Allegra/Zyrtec, whatever you need to do!

Symptom Mitigation

Forget about the standard over-the-counter (OTC) medicines advertised for cold and flu. For me, these "cures" always end up doing the opposite of what I want them to do. Instead of alleviating my congested nose, that expectorant turns it from a faucet to a freaking waterfall, leaving me with a never-ending stream of snot even worse than before. I want my nose plugged up like a cork, not flowing like a river.

So, what does work for me? Well, it took me 26 long years of trial and error, but I've finally figured out a system that works. Instead of grabbing the "cold and flu" combo nonsense, I manually recreate its incredients: a bottle of Benadryl and, if needed, add a dose of Tylenol or other NSAID to manage fever. This combination has been my lifesaver during cold season.

Another must-have in my cold-fighting arsenal is the "everyday throat irritant" drops. Menthol is great and all, but after a while, it gets old fast. Don't be afraid to reach for something a little more tolerable, even if it's weaker.


Even with symptoms mitigated, we don't want to experience them for long. As soon as you're exposed to a cold, start taking Zicam (or any other zinc supplement). The evidence is somewhat shaky but does consistently support shortening the duration of symptoms by almost a full day2. Anecdotally, this simple tip has shortened my recovery time significantly, and it's just another simple, low risk intervention that is a no-brainer for me.

Let's tackle the lingering sore throat on its own. Continued post-nasal drip can bother you long after your cold is over. Since you're not blowing your nose while you're sleeping, all that mucus is running down your throat irritating those poor cells. When it comes to a lingering sore throat, we need to attack from multiple angles.

First, continue to take a Benadryl before bed. This not only help limits mucus production but also helps give me a much-needed good night's sleep.

Second, sleeping position. DO NOT SLEEP ON YOUR BACK! Turn to the side or prop up your head a bit, so the mucus isn't just hitting the back of the throat over and over with nowhere to run.


Finally, I struggle with meals during a cold. On the one hand, it can be painful to eat, and I don't want anything. On the other I'm feeling awful and want a pick-me-up. To balance things out a bit, I like to reach for heated Fairlife chocolate milk (hot chocolate, yay!), high-protein oatmeal from Kodiak Cakes, and chicken noodle soup. This combo provides me with some solid nutrition I desperately need to fight off my cold, a bit of tastiness to not be miserable, and all without filling me up with too much of anything bad.


Surviving colds as a chronic sufferer takes a little bit of know-how and a lot of patience. But with the tips I've shared, you'll be able to power through your next cold and come out the other side, err, not exactly beaming but slightly less grumpy I hope!


1 = Bucher, A., & White, N. (2016). Vitamin C in the Prevention and Treatment of the Common Cold. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 10(3), 181–183.

2 = Science, M., Johnstone, J., Roth, D. E., Guyatt, G., & Loeb, M. (2012). Zinc for the treatment of the common cold: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 184(10), E551–E561.