Turn up the heat as a head cold treatment

Got head cold? Want a head cold treatment that works?

We feel your pain. The common cold is no fun at all. A head cold treatment is in order, yes?

Try heat to beat it.

The old saying is: "An untreated cold lasts about seven days, while a treated cold will last about a week."

Obviously, there are things that you can do to make it less of an ordeal.

Here's one that works for some people, including (sometimes) us. Encourage a fever. Sweat it out.

You'll likely have a low fever as your body begins fighting back, so instead of fighting it, go with it.

A head cold treatment that doesn't beat the heat

The rhinoviruses are adapted to thrive in your nose. One of the things that they like about that environment, other than the warmth and moisture and food supply (your cells), is the fact that it's not TOO warm. Your body is normally at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (or 37 degrees Celsius), core temperature.

Your nose, being on the front of your face, and the passages of your upper airway, being constantly subjected to the cooling effects of all that air that you inhale, are a little cooler than your body's core temperature. The head-cold-causing viruses are adapted to that cozy, but not-too-warm temperature range. So maybe you can disrupt their welcome, make that prime nasal real estate seem a little less perfect.

A fever is the body's way of fighting infections. By raising your body temperature higher than normal, you make your internal environment less hospitable to viruses and bacteria. It won't kill them (unless it gets high enough to kill you, too), but it distracts them and lessens their effectiveness and their resistance to the other defenses that your body deploys. Heat as a head cold treatment.

So, when you get that first-day uneasy feeling of "I might be coming down with something", where your throat might be a little scratchy, you might be sniffling a bit, you might have that slightly off-your-stride feeling that something is not quite right... go to bed. Don't stay up watching the Late Show. Go to bed.

You got the fever? Stoke that fever

Don't take any aspirin or other fever-reducing drugs. Tonight, you want a bit of fever. That's your low-rent head cold treatment. Pile on the blankets. Wear pajamas - even/especially if you normally sleep nude. Wear socks. You could even wear a night-cap (if you are so old-fashioned that you actually have one lying around) or a wool watch-cap or toque.

We're serious about this.

You are going to sweat tonight, so you might also want to put something extra under the sheets to keep from soaking the mattress.

We suggest having an additional set or two of long undies or 'jammies beside the bed. Being wet and uncomfortable is not the point. Being hot (slightly) for several hours is the point. You can pull the clean, dry pajamas under the blankets and change when you get too soggy. It'll help you sleep better. Pull the blankets up under your chin - or higher - and resist the urge to throw them off and cool down.

Have an extra pillow or two, so you can recline in a slightly propped-up position if the stuffiness makes it difficult to breathe. The slightly upright position will help with drainage from your nasal passages and will therefore let you breathe a bit easier and sleep a little easier.

Sleep is one of the best things you can do when fighting an invading germ or virus. Keep your arms under the blankets - you don't need them radiating warmth and draining away the fever that you are encouraging.

Hydrate, hydrate

Keep a pitcher of water or juice beside the bed, and drink whenever you think of it. You'll be sweating a lot of fluid, so keep ahead of your thirst. The body needs to stay hydrated to be in its best fighting trim. You don't want to go to all this sweaty, overheated trouble, trying to fight off a cold, and then defeat it by allowing yourself to become dehydrated and weak!

Part of your head cold treatment is to stay hydrated. If you keep sipping all night (whenever you wake up and feel the urge), you will also feel another urge - so have a bathrobe or some additional garment handy for when you have to get up and go pee. That's also a good time to switch into a fresh set of dry 'jammies or longjohns, but minimize your exposure to coolness. Get back into that overly warm bed and hunker down. (Plan ahead by starting your night on one side, and shifting to the other side so you aren't on the wet spot.

Did we mention that your spouse probably won't be doing this with you, so it's handy to have a guest bed. Yes?) Just keep telling yourself that as annoying as all this too-warm sweatiness is, to you, it's beating back those miserable viruses, making it more difficult for them to get into your cells, and more difficult for them to reproduce. At the same time, your body's other defenses are designed to work quite well in the midst of your mild fever, so you are helping the war effort.

Either it works right away (first night) - or it's not gonna

Now, there are no guarantees, but if this works, it'll be in the first night or two (at most). If it hasn't worked by then.... well, just make yourself as comfortable as you can, and don't bother further with trying to stay overheated. If you've reached the third day take whatever aspirin or other meds you care to. Might as well get as much relief as you can from the symptoms.

However bad the infestation, it'll run its course in a week to ten days. Once the viruses get established, they'll run their course. The whole idea of the assisted fever is to nip the infection in the bud, to limit the beach-head that the attacking viruses can establish in the early hours of the attack, giving your body a chance to recognize and counter-attack without facing an overwhelming wave of nasties. If that approach doesn't work in the first day or two, it isn't going to. Sorry.

We've had some nasty incoming colds be pretty-much aborted by catching them in time and by doing what we describe above. In other cases, the cold still caught on, and ran its duration, but by hitting it hard at the outset, we minimized the symptoms with our fever-based head cold treatment.

We wouldn't recommend this for anything more serious than a cold, because - as nasty as they can be - colds are annoyances, not life-threatening attacks. But other kinds of diseases, especially more serious ones, will generate fevers anyway, and those can be quite serious (the fever, we mean) and not something to trifle with.

If it's just a head cold, where most of the attack is in superficial tissues of your nose and throat, your body will prevent any serious rise in core temperature by simply not producing as much heat as you huddle under all those blankets. But in a major assault, by some life-threatening germ, the attack will be more widespread and you might risk damage from a really severe fever response to infection. Choose your battles. Or let your doctor choose them.

Quick Links to all our common-cold-related pages

Here's the handy selection of our common cold / head-cold related pages on this Men's Health Tips (MHT) site:

The MHT page What the page is about

Common-cold intro

The introductory page for this section about colds.

Virus versus Bacteria

What's the difference and why is it important to you

Misusing antibiotics

How you can be part of the problem, and make bacteria antibiotic resistant - create your own superbug

Prevent the Common Cold

Here are some things that should help prevent colds before you get them.

Fight/treat a cold (this page)

Here are some things that should help with colds after you get them.

If this page wasn't where you wanted to be, then from this "head cold treatment" page, go back to the home page.

PLEASE be aware that by using this site you agree to our Terms and Conditions. Imagine for a moment that you are so bored that you have already read all the cereal-box labels and are now ready to read the (gasp!) Terms and Conditions . Frightening, we know. But click the link anyway. For the rest of your life, you can have a new benchmark for "bored".