The Grapevine

Cold Prevention Methods: What Works And What Doesn't

There is no mystery around the prefix of the common cold when there are over 200 different viruses that can lead to cold symptoms. While the infection is common, the remedies are anything but. 

Without a cure, it all comes down to prevention strategies — but are we practicing the right ones?

"It's important for parents to understand which cold prevention strategies are evidence-based. While some methods are very effective in preventing children from catching the cold, others have not been shown to actually make any difference," said Gary Freed, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

Freed was the co-director of a new poll which found that some parents still follow cold prevention strategies based on folklore rather than scientific evidence. There is a good chance your family told you to avoid going outside with wet hair when you were a child, for instance.

Our exposure to cold viruses is the only thing that leads to an infection, Dr. Pritish Tosh, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases physician told HuffPost. "That’s what you need to get infected. Going out with wet hair is not going to cause an infection."

Another one we often hear is about is vitamin C supposedly preventing colds by boosting your immune system. But this only seems to be the case for people under intense physical stress (marathon runners, skiers, soldiers, etc.) in extremely cold weather conditions.

There is actually no evidence that the nutrient can ward off colds for the general population. While you may feel free to include food sources such as citrus fruit and tomatoes in your diet, taking vitamin C supplements and multivitamins will not do much to prevent colds. As they do not require regulation by the Food and Drug Administration., these products may be falsely advertised as a solution.

According to Freed, many folklore strategies emerged long before we understood that germs were the cause of colds and other illnesses. But they are practiced to this day as they are passed down through generations despite lack of scientific evidence.

There is nothing you can do to ensure 100 percent protection from cold viruses. But there are science-based tactics that can significantly reduce your risk, the most effective one being good personal hygiene.

Handwashing cannot be emphasized enough, experts say, since the viruses that cause colds may reside on your hands. If you do not have access to soap and water, the CDC suggests using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

If there are people around who are already infected, do not share foods or utensils with them and avoid forms of physical contact such as kissing or hugging. Another tip doctors often share is to avoid touching your own face too much — viruses might enter the body via the eyes, nose, or mouth in some cases.

Remember to clean the surrounding environment as often as possible. Wipe frequently-used surfaces such as doorknobs, remote controls, countertops, etc. If there are children at home, their toys should also be cleaned regularly.