How can you prevent a cold?

The best way to prevent a cold is to decrease your exposure to the viruses that cause colds. Because those viruses are everywhere and we're all exposed to them when we go out in public–either by touching surfaces or coming into contact with different people–the most important thing you can do is to wash your hands frequently, especially during cold season. 

Another important measure you can take to decrease your exposure is to avoid touching your face during the day, since most colds are acquired through contact with the nose, mouth, and eyes. A lot of us don’t realize how often we touch our faces, but in fact, it is one of the most common methods of transmission. 

A few other strategies can also be helpful for keeping cold viruses at bay: For example, carrying a portable hand sanitizer is a great idea if you take public transportation every day or are planning on traveling. Getting adequate sleep, managing stress, eating nutrient-dense meals, and even exercising will help your body stay strong and handle the pathogens we are regularly exposed to in our everyday environment. 

The quality of indoor air can also contribute to cold transmission. Forced air heat, which is much more common in cold season, dries the air and allows respiratory droplets to travel more easily. Dry air also compromises our natural line of defense, the mucus layer of our respiratory tract. When our nasal passages are dry, they can more easily be invaded by respiratory bugs. For these reasons, humidifiers and nasal moisturizers can be helpful. This aspect of cold prevention is somewhat dependent on where a person lives. For example, someone living in the desert has to work harder to keep their body hydrated and moisturized than someone living in a more tropical climate. In general, if your skin shows signs of being dry, there is a good chance your mucus membranes are also dry and could use some more protection. Besides using humidifiers when needed, a drop of oil or salve applied with clean fingertip or swab into the nose can help it filter the air it is taking in. 

Additionally, saltwater nasal rinses have been shown to be effective in preventing a cold from getting worse. The biggest advantage of a saltwater nasal rinse is that it keeps the interior lining of your nasal passages moist, which ultimately enhances your body's ability to fight a virus. 

Scientifically, there is not much research behind “sweating out a cold,” though being in heat does increase your heat shock protein production which can have a beneficial impact on your immune system. Plus, if you’re already infected with a cold and have a lot of sticky mucus in your lungs, spending time in heat in combination with aggressive hydration might help you eliminate some of that mucus more easily. 

Just as there is no real way to sweat out a cold, there is also no way to stop a cold overnight or stop a cold over a predetermined amount of time. However, there are things you can do to optimize your immune system and possibly shorten the duration of a cold. To help your immune system perform at peak, you should eat plant-rich or nutrient-dense foods, stay hydrated, and get lots of rest. Certain herbal supplements– like Umcka or Andrographis–can also be useful in shortening the duration of a cold.