What to Do When You Feel a Cold Coming On

    Updated 06 November 2020 |
    Published 23 October 2019
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant
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    No one enjoys being sick. During the winter cold and flu season, it’s inevitable that many of us will fall ill. There are a few things you can do when you feel like you’re getting sick to reduce the length and severity of your cold, though. Here are some of our top tips to help you feel better. Read on to find out what to do when you feel a cold coming on.

    Symptoms of a cold

    Coughing, sneezing, chills, and a runny nose are the familiar symptoms of a cold. The common cold is actually caused by several different viruses, with rhinoviruses being the most common culprit. One symptom that isn’t part of a cold is a fever.

    Typically, if you have a fever, you are more likely to have the flu. You may also feel tired and rundown. Having a cold may also affect your mood. Some people report feeling sad and depressed when they’re sick. 

    How to stop a cold when you feel it coming on

    Unfortunately, once you contract a cold, there’s no way to stop it entirely. You can, however, eat well, drink plenty of water, and rest to reduce the severity of the cold and allow your body to heal.

    Get enough rest and sleep

    Your immune system is busy working overtime to fight off the cold virus in your system. One of the best ways to beat a cold fast is by getting a good night’s sleep. The more rest you’re able to get, the more your body’s resources can be used to fight off the cold.

    Your emotional state can also affect healing speed. When you’re sick, it’s easy to feel down or depressed, but these emotions can actually lengthen your recovery time. While you rest, try mindful meditation to help reduce your stress levels.

    Stress can really kick your cold symptoms into high gear. Too much stress also produces a hormone called cortisol, which causes inflammation of your tissues and weakens your immune system.

    Drink plenty of water

    A cold virus wreaks havoc on your mucous membranes. The more water you have in your body, the thinner the mucus from your cold will be. It’s important to be well hydrated to help your immune system fight off a cold. Drinking lots of water also makes it easier to blow your nose and have productive coughs.

    Drinking lots of water helps reduce fluid loss. When you’re sick, you tend to sweat more, and the demands of fighting off the illness can make your body work harder. This means you’ll lose fluids and possibly even become dehydrated.

    Water isn’t the only beverage that can help with a cold. Warm tea, especially chamomile with honey or green tea with lemon, can keep you hydrated and reduce the congestion and sniffles. Warm beverages may help open up your airways. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sodas, however, as these can make dehydration worse.

    Ask a doctor to prescribe you medication

    Over-the-counter cold and flu medication can help reduce the severity of your symptoms. Medication with antihistamines and decongestants may help with a stuffy nose and congestion. For aches and pains, ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help. These medications might relieve symptoms, but they won't prevent a cold or shorten its duration, and most have some side effects. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your doctor before taking any cold or flu medicine. 

    There are some medications that don’t work to stop a cold. Antibiotics work on bacteria not viruses, which are what cause the common cold. If you have antibiotics, don’t take them to treat a cold. Also, please remember to consult with a doctor before taking any of the above-listed medications. 

    Use a humidifier

    The steam from a humidifier can help stave off dehydration, especially when you sleep. Breathing in steam can help avoid the dry sinuses and sore throat that can pop up overnight. Warm steam from your humidifier can also help loosen the mucus in your lungs and sinuses.

    Make sure you change the water every day, and clean the humidifier according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This includes drying all the parts to reduce mold and mildew. If you don’t, you risk having mold grow in the unit. Mold spores can get into the air and make you feel even worse when you’re sick.

    Stick to a healthy diet

    As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat.” That’s especially important to remember if you’re sick. When you have a cold, it’s important to give your body the right kind of nourishment. Protein-rich foods such as lean meats, Greek yogurt, eggs, and chickpeas can help strengthen your immune system. 

    If you don’t have much of an appetite when you have a cold, try some soup, warm chicken broth, or a spicy pho. The warm liquids can help ease the congestion of a cold while keeping you nourished. 

    Eating well in general can make you less likely to get sick and help you beat a cold fast. A healthy body is strong enough to fight off many illnesses. 

    Wash your hands frequently

    The cold virus is transmitted from person to person easily, especially in cold months when people are in close quarters. Washing your hands with warm, soapy water often reduces the number of virus germs you have on your hands.

    If you work in an office, make sure that you sanitize your keyboard often. Coughing and sneezing can distribute the cold virus over your workstation.

    When to see a doctor

    If your symptoms persist for more than 10 days or if you develop a fever, you may need to see a doctor. A fever can indicate that you have the flu. There are a couple of medications that your doctor can prescribe to lessen the duration of the flu if it’s diagnosed within 48 hours of getting sick.

    It’s very important to get medical help on time. Left untreated, a cold can worsen into more severe respiratory issues.

    If you have asthma, it’s important to visit your doctor when you have a cold as your health condition can make you more susceptible to complications.


    Getting a cold this winter may be inevitable, but suffering can sideline you for days. Eat well, drink lots of water, and get plenty of rest to help you beat a cold fast. Understanding how to lessen the symptoms of a cold when you feel one coming on can help you reduce the time missed at work and get you back on your feet faster.  

    History of updates

    Current version (06 November 2020)

    Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant

    Published (23 October 2019)

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