7 Ways You’re Making Your Serious Cold Even Worse

We’ve all been there — it starts with a throat scratch and the sniffles, then your congestion’s so bad, you can’t believe you ever took breathing for granted. The common cold is one ailment we all would love a cure for, but unfortunately, there’s very little you can do once you have it. Most of us load up on orange juice and a wealth of over-the-counter meds to help get through the sleepless nights and painful days. But if your cold seems to take weeks to recover from, you may unknowingly be sabotaging your own immune system. Here are 10 ways you’re making this annoying cold even worse.

1. Ignoring your symptoms

woman blowing her nose in the office

Woman blowing her nose in the office | iStock.com

It may start slow, but the common cold is not to be ignored if you hope for a speedy recovery. Going to work, running errands, and going out with friends when you start coming down with something is not giving your body the rest it needs. And Cesar Arias, M.D., tells Everyday Health you’re the most contagious when your symptoms are just starting to surface. If you want to prolong the agony and put others at risk, then go ahead and ignore your scratchy throat — otherwise, pay attention to your body.

2. Forgetting to drink water

man with a glass of water

Man with a glass of water | iStock.com

WebMD says staying hydrated is crucial for getting through a nasty cold. If you’re not a fan of plain water, try going for decaf tea to help soothe an aching throat and loosen chest congestion. Hot water with lemon can also be a nice change of pace.

If your appetite is off because of your illness, try drinking some broth or chicken noodle soup for a meal that’s both hydrating and nourishing — just make sure you watch your sodium intake, or this could have the opposite effect. And be sure to skip your morning coffee, as this could contribute to dehydration.

3. Missing out on sleep

Young girl fell asleep while reading on a sofa

Girl asleep on the sofa | iStock.com/ZoiaKostina

When it comes to being sick with the common cold, one of the most effective remedies is to get as much rest as possible. According to Everyday Health, sleep helps your body fight infection, so skimping limits its ability to do so. If you’re only getting five to six hours of sleep a night, it’s best to bump that number up by at least a few hours. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and that’s while healthy.

Having trouble sleeping with a cold? The Huffington Post suggests keeping your head elevated to breathe more easily and avoid that awful post-nasal drip. Drinking chamomile tea with honey can also help soothe an aching throat and calm you into a deep sleep.

4. Going out for a few drinks

Bartender pouring a beer into a glass

Bartender pouring a beer into a glass | iStock.com/Ariadna126

Alcohol kills germs, doesn’t it? With this logic, catching up with friends over a beer or five makes perfect sense when you’re sick. Not so fast — Thrillist explains for this misconception to be even a little bit truthful, your blood alcohol content would have to be over 60%, which also means you wouldn’t be alive. In reality, drinking alcohol can further weaken your immune system when you have a cold.

Dr. Kathy Gruver, a nutrition and stress specialist, tells the publication your body treats alcohol like a toxin and chooses to metabolize it first over anything else. Despite your body’s best efforts, it can only metabolize about one ounce of alcohol per hour, which is less than a standard shot. If you’re drinking any more than this, your body will have to fight your illness and metabolize the alcohol at the same time, which doesn’t make for a quick recovery. Do yourself a favor and skip happy hour until you’re no longer sick.

5. Working out

group of happy women working out

Women exercising at the gym | iStock.com/dolgachov

Missing a day at the gym may not be ideal for your fitness goals, but when you’re coming down with a nasty cold, too much exercise can actually make your symptoms worse. Raul Seballos, M.D., tells Men’s Fitness attempting your normal workout could leave you feeling sicker. Instead, he says you should aim to reduce your efforts by about 50% or take a few days off. There’s also the above-the-neck rule you should always follow — if all of your symptoms are just in your head and sinuses, you should be OK to exercise. If they extend beyond your neck, then be sure to take a rest day or two.

You also can’t sweat out a fever, so you should never work out if your temperature is above average. Listen to your body — even if your symptoms are all above your neck, you’re better off sleeping if you’re feeling extremely fatigued.

What exercises are safe?

man resting in the grass after a workout

Man resting in the grass after a workout | iStock.com

If skipping your workouts gives you serious anxiety, there are a few exercises you can safely perform when you’re sick. Just make sure to keep it light and easy. If running is your go-to exercise, then try going for a 20 minute walk instead. This can actually help your sinuses, as the deep breaths can clear your nasal passages and make you feel better.

Yoga is also highly recommended, as it’s low impact, relaxing, and perfect for increasing flexibility and strength. Some yoga poses are particularly beneficial for when you’re sick, Shape explains. Downward-facing dog helps drain the sinuses, bridge pose helps open up the chest, and any type of inversion helps move lymph fluid through the body.

We suggest taking a walk outside or performing yoga in your own home rather than going to the gym. Being around other active individuals may keep you motivated, but you could infect others or make your own sickness worse by doing so.

6. Using nasal spray too often

Girl taking cough syrup in bed

Girl taking cough syrup | iStock.com

When over-the-counter cough syrups and pills aren’t cutting it, some may turn toward nasal sprays to get rid of that pesky congestion. The Washington Post explains nasal sprays work by shrinking the swollen blood vessels in the nose, which helps you breathe more easily during times of illness. These are known to bring faster relief than oral decongestants, which is why they’re common for alleviating cold symmptos. It’s vital to not overdo it with these, however. Using them too often can actually leave you feeling worse than if you’d never used them at all.

In the story, Beverly Schaefer, a pharmacist in Seattle, says continually using the sprays and then suddenly stopping causes the blood vessels to swell back up. If you find your cold isn’t getting any better after a week or two, consult your doctor before overdoing it with the medications.

Also, skip the antibiotics

bottle pouring pills

Man pouring pills into his hands | iStock.com/theevening

Before you head to the doctor’s office hoping for a script for antibiotics, know you’ll leave empty-handed. And, if your friend at work offers to give you a pill or two, just say no. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds us more than 200 viruses cause the common cold, and antibiotics do not work against viruses. Pain relievers, fever reducers, and decongestants are generally the way to go. If symptoms persist beyond 10 days with no signs of getting better, then seeing your doctor is justified.

7. Sleeping with a humidifier


A humidifier | iStock.com

You probably had one as a kid and you may still use one now, but humidifiers actually don’t do much for the common cold. According to NPR’s Nancy Shute, the humidifier may be doing more harm than good. Some newer ultrasonic humidifiers can have toxic metals, mold, or bacteria in them, which disperseinto the air, making your sickness even worse.

Even if you’re religiously cleaning your humidifier, you need to make sure you’re using bleach, vinegar, and distilled water to thoroughly clean every crevice. In addition, excess humidity can actually encourage mold growth in your household, which isn’t doing your lungs or nose any favors. We suggest turning off the humidifier and propping your head up with a pillow before you go to sleep instead.

Prevention strategies

man sick with the flu

A sick man| iStock.com

What’s the best way to get over your cold? Avoidt getting one in the first place, of course. Washing your hands for a full 20 seconds using antibacterial soap is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself, and do your best to keep distance from friends and family members who are coming down with something. Additionally, if you’re hitting the gym a few times a week in the winter, spray down your machine both before and after using to avoid germs.

It’s also important to give your immune system a boost with the foods you eat. Douglas Kalman, R.D., tells Health getting enough protein is super important for immunity, so add fish, eggs, yogurt, and lean meats to your diet. Adding more zinc to your plate may also prove beneficial — Marc Leavey, M.D., takes lozenges that contain zinc when he’s starting to come down with an illness.