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The Next Best Thing to a Cure for the Common Cold?

As cold and flu season heats up, good news comes in form of a lozenge. A study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases suggests that taking zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold could lead to milder symptoms and quicker recovery.

In the study, within 24 hours of contracting a cold, 50 people were given either lozenges containing 13 mg of zinc (in the form of zinc acetate) or a matching placebo to be taken every two to three hours while awake for as long as they had cold symptoms.

People who took the zinc lozenges had cold symptoms for a significantly shorter time than the people taking placebo (four days versus seven days). Compared with the placebo group, the zinc group's coughs, runny noses, and muscle aches lasted significantly less time, and symptoms were significantly less severe. Side effects were mild and similar between both groups.

The common cold may be caused by more than 200 different viruses, with rhinoviruses leading the pack. The average adult experiences two to four colds per year, while children may suffer as many as ten. The viruses are spread in the droplets of coughs and sneezes and can be passed from person to person by handling objects such as telephones, door knobs, and toys that an infected person has touched.

Runny nose, sore throat, body aches, cough, congestion, sneezing, and low-grade fever are some of the uncomfortable symptoms that herald a cold's onset, and these may last for a couple of weeks. Until now, there wasn't much to do for a cold besides getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and gargling with salt water. The American College of Chest Physicians discourages use of cough suppressants or expectorants and cautions that these medications shouldn’t be used by anyone younger than 14 years old.

Some studies have suggested that zinc might help relieve cold symptoms, but the evidence hasn't been conclusive. On these promising new results, the authors proposed "that the beneficial clinical effects seen in the zinc group were due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of zinc." The zinc acetate used in new study is easily released in the mouth in a cherry-flavored lozenge.

When dealing with colds, prevention is still the best medicine. Remember to wash hands frequently and use and dispose of tissues promptly. When washing isn't possible, try a natural hand sanitizer like those made by EO or Clean Well.

(J Infect Dis 2008;197:795–802)

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