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Hot Toddy for the Common Cold

The common cold. Yuck. It tops the list for doctor visits in the United States, and is blamed for around 22 million missed school and work days every year. There are more than 100 different viruses that can cause the common cold, along with all the unpleasantness that accompanies it:

  • runny or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • sneezing
  • fever
  • cough
  • headache
  • body aches
  • general tiredness

The common cold is highly contagious, and beyond avoiding people who are obviously sick and practicing good personal hygiene (like washing your hands), there’s not much you can to to keep from catching an occasional cold. There’s no vaccine that will protect you from catching a cold and no antibiotic to help you get over one once your sick. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, getting drinking plenty of fluids and getting sufficient rest is the best treatment for a cold (anecdotal evidence for vitamin C, Echinacea and zinc as effective cold remedies haven’t been confirmed by scientific studies). Fortunately, most folks make a full recovery within 7 to 10 days.

While there is little you can do to treat the cold itself, there are some over-the-counter medications that may help with the symptoms. For example, the CDC suggests taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve sinus pressure, pain or fever. A time-honored home remedy that can also provide some relief from cold symptoms is the hot toddy.

According to Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, the traditional hot toddy, which contains whiskey, lemon and honey, might actually provide some relief from symptoms of the common cold, although it will have no effect on the virus that caused the cold in the first place.

The alcohol dilates blood vessels a bit, which makes it easier for the mucus membranes to deal with the infection, and the warm steam helps open your nasal passages. The alcohol can also help you get to sleep, which is what your body needs most to fight off the cold. Maybe, instead of reaching for that green, liquid, night time over-the-counter medication (which probably contains 10% alcohol), consider mixing up a hot toddy instead.

NOTE: Hot toddies containing alcohol should not be given to children. Instead, for the little ones consider a cup of hot chicken soup.

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