Are you sniffling and sneezing yet? If not, chances are that you soon will be. Cold season is upon us!

Experts estimate that adults will average two to four colds this year. Kids often get six to 10 URIs (upper respiratory infections) in a year.

Interestingly, senior citizens seem less susceptible, averaging less than one cold annually. That’s presumably because they have had so many over a lifetime that they have built up natural immunity by the time they reach their 60s.

According to the government, there will be more than 1 billion colds in the U.S. this year. That adds up to a lot of suffering. And modern medicine doesn’t have a thing it can offer to help you overcome the infection. Ask your doctor for a drug to speed recovery and he or she will shrug in frustration.

Infectious-disease experts usually offer the same old advice year in and year out: Wash your hands! If you do come down with a cold, “get plenty of rest and drink fluids.”

There’s not a lot of scientific evidence that such recommendations make much difference. A randomized trial of hand disinfection with an alcohol hand sanitizer demonstrated dismal results (Clinical Infectious Diseases, May 15, 2012). One group of volunteers applied the alcohol lotion every three hours throughout the day. The control group followed their normal hand-washing routine. All subjects kept a diary of common cold symptoms. Nasal lavage specimens were analyzed for rhinovirus (RV).

Sadly, the investigators discovered “virucidal hand treatment had no significant impact on the incidence of RV infection or RV-associated illness.” Even though the regular use of alcohol-containing hand sanitizer effectively eradicates cold viruses from the hands, regular use did not reduce the likelihood of catching a cold.

So what should you do if you do come down with a URI this winter? We do not recommend most drugstore cold treatments. The pain relievers that are frequently found in such remedies (ibuprofen and acetaminophen) may actually dampen immune response and increase nasal symptoms (Journal of Infectious Diseases, December 1990).

Oral decongestants can ease stuffiness, but they may lead to insomnia. Getting a good night’s sleep is important to allow the immune system to fight off cold viruses.

For symptom relief, grandmothers around the world have relied on home remedies for generations. Chicken soup, hot toddies, ginger tea, garlic and cod liver oil (with vitamin D) all have enthusiastic supporters.

There are details about these remedies and about antiviral Chinese herbs such as andrographis and astragalus in our Guide to Colds, Coughs and the Flu. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (66 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. Q-20, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: This brochure also contains a range of remedies for coughs, such as thyme tea, honey, dark chocolate and grape juice, that are safer for children than drugstore cough syrup.

If you do catch a cold in the coming weeks, remember that the best thing you can do is stay home, rest and avoid spreading it to others.