Dear Dr. Jahn,
I literally can’t afford to catch a cold this time of year! Too many important gigs lined up. So, what are my best chances to avoid catching one – or, if I get one (gasp!), what is my quickest way through it?? I’m wondering if you will tell me anything my mother hasn’t already…
If your mother is like mine, it is unlikely I can do better than her, but here it goes.
First, stay healthy: eat and drink enough, get adequate sleep, exercise regularly and avoid stress as much as possible. Stress can weaken your immune system and make you more vulnerable for the cold virus.
Second, minimize the potential for contagion: wash your hands several times a day, especially before touching your face (monitor that you don’t touch your face unnecessarily or habitually), don’t shake hands with sick people and try to avoid crowded places as much as you can. At the risk of looking silly, cover your face with a scarf if you need to go on a crowded bus or train during rush hour. If anyone in your family (or a room mate) gets sick, minimize direct physical contact and don’t share personal items such as toiletries, dishes or cutlery.
On the active side of prevention, take Vitamin C, about 4000 mg a day in divided doses during cold season. Other remedies such as Echinacea may also be helpful, but Vitamin C clearly is beneficial. At the first sign of a cold, double your Vitamin C intake, always divided over the course of the day. Remedies containing Vitamin C, such as Airborne are very useful—don’t know if you have this in the U.K., but it is an effervescent tablet with vitamins and other remedies that you can drink at the onset of a cold.
Zinc lozenges are very useful, as are zinc nasal swabs— not as a preventive, but they do shorten the cold, make the symptoms less severe and make you less contagious. (Avoid zinc nasal spray, since some patients have reported a loss of smell using the spray formulation.)
If you do get sick, stop exercising, stay warm, drink lots of fluids and let your body heal itself. You do not need antibiotics unless the viral cold leads to a secondary bacterial infection, which manifests with mucus that is green or yellow.
Let me know how your season goes!
-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)
This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.
Dr. Jahn is an internationally renowned otolaryngologist based in Manhattan with a sub-specialty interest in the professional voice. His practice includes classical and popular singers. He holds academic appointments at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He is Medical Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and former Director of Medical Services at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dr. Jahn has published several books for vocalists, including “Vocal Heath for Singers” (Singdaptive) and “The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health” (Oxford University Press).