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Things You Should Never Do When You Have a Cold

These mistakes make you worse, not better.

You think you know the drill when it comes to treating the common cold, but a surprising number of us are doing it all wrong. Eat This, Not That! Health asked some of the top doctors in the nation to fill us in on the mistakes we make, and their responses were actually quite shocking. Here are all the things you should never do when you have a cold if you want to recover as quickly as possible. 


Take Antibiotics

woman takes medicine capsules

Many people have a misconception that antibiotics are a cure-all for everything from infections to the common cold. However, this isn't the case. "These will do nothing for viral infections like influenza or the common cold and could give you (serious) side effects such as diarrhea, GI upset and allergic reactions," points out Thomas J. Mele, MD, FAAFP, Urgent Care Physician, Memorial Healthcare System. Additionally, they can kill the good bacteria in your body and you may also build up a resistance to them—so when you actually need to take them, they will be less effective. 

The Rx: Make sure to rest, take care of yourself, and allow your body to do the work! If you aren't sure how to do so, or if you feel as though you aren't recovering quickly enough, get in to see your doctor ASAP. 


Eat Sugary Foods

eating apple dessert

When you have a cold, your sweet tooth may still kick up. However, Alexandra Kreps, MD, Manhattan Internist and Tru Whole Care provider, suggests avoiding any indulging in any sugary treats when you have a cold. In fact, studies have found that sugar can suppress immunity, prolonging your illness. 

The Rx: If you have to satisfy your sweet tooth, pick up a piece of fruit instead. 


Stop Eating Completely

Displeased young woman doesn't want to eat her breakfast

While overeating isn't good when you have a cold, neither is starving yourself, points out Dr. Kreps. Your body needs fuel to fight a cold, and that's where food comes in. Additionally, it can also help boost your body heat—which makes a bowl of chicken soup a great option.

The Rx: Make sure to keep your body fueled with healthy food if you have a cold. 


Not Drink Enough Water

man holding glass drinking water

When you have a cold, hydration is key. If you neglect to drink enough fluids, it can hinder the body's healing process. "Dehydration hinders your body's ability to fight infection by limiting the secretion of antimicrobial proteins into your saliva," explains Peterson Pierre, MD, a board certified dermatologist based in Thousand Oaks, California.  

The Rx: Experts always recommend drinking eight glasses of water per day, and Dr. Pierre maintains this is especially the case when you are sick. 


Not Get Enough Sleep

Depressed woman awake in the night, she is touching her forehead and suffering from insomnia

When you're sick, your antibodies need time to fight off the infection and restore your health. "Sleep deprivation decreases your immune system's ability to do its job," points out Dr. Pierre. One study even showed that getting less than seven hours of sleep has a negative effect on your immune system. "Being sleep deprived also predisposes you to catching a cold," he adds.

The Rx: Try to get eight hours every night as much as possible, Dr. Pierre encourages—and maybe even more if you are under the weather! 


Forget About Good Hygiene

woman sneezing on her elbow.

Remember how your mother used to encourage you to wash your hands to avoid getting sick? Well, if you are the sick one, you can avoid spreading your germs by practicing good hygiene. Michelle C. Reed, DO, notes this is especially important before eating. Additionally "cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze using a tissue or in the crook of your arm," she instructs. Finally, do not share eating utensils or let anyone drink after you. 

The Rx: Practice good hygiene all the time—but especially if you are sick! 


Drink Alcohol

Woman in woollen socks taking a glass of red wine relaxing by the cozy fireplace

Even if you are drinking eight glasses of water a day, just one serving of alcohol can disrupt your hydration. Therefore, having a few drinks when you have a cold can disrupt the healing process. "Drinking alcohol is too dehydrating and impairs liver detoxification," points out Dean Mitchell, MD

The Rx: Try and refrain from drinking alcohol when you are sick. If you must have a drink, make sure to offset the dehydration by drinking even more fluids. 


Exercise Vigorously

Flu and cold man. Young athlete coughing and blowing on a tissue. Caucasian

Some people have this idea that you can "sweat out" illness. But that isn't the case, says Dr. Mitchell. "Vigorous exercise when you are sick stresses the body and cortisol levels already in overdrive," he points out. Then, consider the dehydration potential of sweating out all those fluids your body needs to help you get better. 

The Rx: If you feel the need to move, try a light workout instead. However, giving your body a rest is really just what the doctor ordered. The sooner you get better, the faster you can get back to your hardcore workout regime. 




Being sick can be incredibly boring. However, Dr. Mitchell warns against binge-eating if you have a cold. "Eating less food is better when you are sick," he explains, pointing out that overeating can "burden" your immune system.

The Rx: Choose your meals carefully when you have a cold. Soups, fruits, veggies, and lots of liquids are your best bet for a speedy recovery. 


Taking Antihistamines

Antihistamine medication or allergy drug. on the table.

Dr. Mitchell explains that many people rush to take antihistamines for a runny nose—without realizing that they are extremely dehydrating.

The Rx: There are many other ways to treat a runny nose than taking antihistamines. Rest, hydration, drinking plenty of fluids, and a nasal saline spray are a few options. 


Be Around Babies

Tired Mother Suffering From Post Natal Depression

If you are sick, you should avoid being around babies at all costs, urges Dr. Kreps. Due to the fact that it takes time to build up our immune systems, newborns are prone to catching a cold or flu incredibly easily. Also, the flu shot isn't recommended for those under the age of six months—so if a baby does catch something it has the potential to be much more life-threatening. 

The Rx: Try and stay away from babies — even your own — when you are sick. 


Have Basic Lab Work Done

Close-up Of Female Doctor Injecting Male Patient With Syringe To Collect Blood Sample

If you think you have a cold or are coming down with one, you should put basic lab work on hold. "Basic laboratory testing might be skewed by a cold," points out Dr. Kreps. 

The Rx: Wait until you are fully recovered to go in for labwork. 



Cigarettes in ashtray.

Obviously, smoking is never good for you. But if you have a cold, it can be even worse. "Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can further irritate your nose, throat and lungs," explains Niket Sonpal, MD, NYC Internist and gastroenterologist.

The Rx: If you need to get your nicotine fix while you are sick, try getting it through a lozenge instead. 



sick woman sitting on the bed wrapped in a white blanket and drink hot tea.

Like alcohol, coffee, soft drinks, and any other forms of caffeine, can dehydrate you, points out Dr. Sonpal. "Hydration is necessary when you have a cold because it helps the kidneys do their job of filtering waste from your body so that you can recover more quickly," he explains.

The Rx: Drink decaf coffee or caffeine-free drinks when you are sick. 


Drink Orange Juice

Pouring orange juice

Many people think to drink orange juice when they are sick. However, the vitamin-C-packed juice is surprisingly bad for treating a cold. "Because orange juice is so acidic, and it will burn the membranes in your throat when you're sick and further irritate them, especially if you have a sore throat," warns Dr. Sonpal. 

The Rx: Stay away from acidic drinks, he instructs. 


Blow Your Nose Too Hard

woman blowing running nose got flu caught cold sneezing in tissue

There's a very good chance you are much too aggressive with your nose blowing. "Don't blow your nose too hard," advises Dr. Sonpal. "Blowing too aggressively can send mucus into the sinuses and cause a sinus infection."

The Rx: Dr. Sonpal suggests blowing just one nostril at a time, and going easy on them! 


Overdoing It With Nasal Spray

portrait of man sitting in the bed spraying drops in his nose

It can be tempting to use nasal spray several times a day, but Dr. Sonpal points out that overuse can cause a rebound effect and dry out your sinuses.

The Rx: Use nasal spray as directed. 

And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 101 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah