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Fighting The Common Cold: What Really Works?

BOSTON (CBS) - It's the most common reason people call in sick to work and kids miss school. It's the common cold. And many people will try anything to fight back against the illness. But what really works?

Dr. Deborah Blazey-Martin treats patients at Tufts Medical Center and says there are some simple steps, like eating yogurt, that are scientifically proven to ward off the sinus pressure and the sniffles. "There's some evidence for prevention with things like probiotics. Like the lactobacillus in yogurts."

You can also get some benefits from other common foods. Garlic is proven to boost the immune system. And maybe we should be saying "an orange a day will keep the doctor away." "Vitamin C may be helpful for prevention of the common cold. As far as we can tell, it's not necessarily helpful for treating the common cold once you have it." And if you love working out in the cold that's even more reason to love Vitamin C. It's been shown to cut the risk of the common cold in half for skiers and runners.

Small studies have also found elderberry extract can help prevent or treat a cold. Others swear by zinc. "Zinc can be helpful in both prevention and treatment," says Dr. Blazey-Martin. But the experts caution there are concerns zinc could damage your sense of smell.

Echinacea is also popular. But Dr. Blazey-Martin says there have been a "number of complementary and alternative medicine studies on Echinacea and they can't seem to find a way that it really helps the common cold." Desperate patients who have been nursing a cold for weeks often turn to their physician for some form of medication but don't expect to get a prescription for antibiotics. They will not help knock out that cold.

Once you have a cold it's all about finding relief. And the age-old remedy of chicken soup just might do the trick. "When it comes to the cold we don't have anything that cures it. So, really it's all about symptom control and if the chicken soup makes you feel better you should definitely take it."

The doctor's best advice: get plenty of rest and keep washing your hands.


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