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Putting Your Favorite Cold Remedies to the Test

Find out if your go-to cold remedy (i.e. tea, vitamin C) is legit or a waste of time and resources.

In case the hacking, coughing, sneezing, and nose honking you're hearing from everyone around you wasn't enough indication, cold season is officially in full swing. And despite successfully sending a man to the moon and creating computers the size of a peanut, scientists still hasn't discovered a cure for the common cold, so we're forced to wallow in our misery and snot, and wait for it to pass.

But, ask your mom, friends, and colleagues, and they've all got an opinion on a foolproof cure. Don't go chugging a carton of orange juice just yet, though. We spoke to Guy Lin, M.D., an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist based in New York City and a member of ENT and Allergy Associates, to find out what common remedies are actually worth a damn, and which might be holding you back on your road to recovery.

Just note these aren't actual cures, "they're supportive therapies," Lin notes. "The body, ultimately, is its best vehicle for getting better and the other supportive therapies around it just facilitate it." 

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"Teas are extremely helpful. They're hydrating, they're soothing and they lubricate the voice box," Dr. Lin says. He points out that hot tea, as well as hot water with lemon and honey, are therapeutic, and any excuse to consume more liquid while you're sick (an absolute must) is helpful. However, regarding the supposed antioxidants in green tea working to expedite the healing process, Lin is quick to shoot it down. "I don't think there's evidence for it," he says.

Chicken Soup

Again, Lin says the hydrating and therapeutic benefits of chicken soup are beneficial. "You're just hydrating. I think as long as the therapy isn't doing harm, it's encouraged. So whether it's tea or lots of liquids or chicken soup, it's all hydration. The body needs extra fluids when you're sick." He also points out that eating healthy, natural ingredients and protein-dense foods, like chicken, are beneficial to recovery.

Raw Garlic/Ginger

Lin sees benefits to eating garlic and ginger, but not for the magical immune-boosting powers many people believe they have. "There is power in our diet. There is some evidence to suggest that we don’t need as much calories while we're sick, and I think that raw, natural ingredients, especially when we're sick, probably have some healing and therapeutic effects. So garlic and ginger fall right into that category," he explains. "They're not heavy in calorie content and they're natural ingredients straight from the earth, so I think that's actually very helpful."

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Salt Water/Hydrogen Peroxide Gargle

While Lin doesn't see anything wrong with salt water rinses, he says you would get more benefits from nasal rinses. Like neti pots? "A neti pot is probably less intensive than a rinse. A neti pot is something that, with gravity, the salt water goes in one nostril and comes out the nose." Instead he suggests using a nasal rinse, which looks like a small squeeze bottle. "A sinus rinse, for instance, would be a cleansing agent for the sinus cavity that you self-direct with a bottle." However, he warns, "There was once a link with neti pot use and a very rare amoebic brain infection." A contaminant was found in tap water, so Lin suggests using distilled or boiled water. As for the hydrogen peroxide, he says, "It can be a little irritating—there's some wound healing data that shows that hydrogen peroxide can delay wound healing. But if you have some form of virus or bacteria in the throat, it may be a little toxic to them, so it might help from that standpoint." Just be sure to dilute it and follow the gargling instructions on the bottle.



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