The 23 Worst Things You Can Do if You Have a Cold, According to Doctors


Winter is great for many things—drinking hot chocolate, building snowmen, the holidays… the list goes on and on. But 'tis also the season of something not-so-great: the common cold. As Yale researchers discovered in 2015, the chilly weather that comes with the winter months weakens your immune system, making your body vulnerable to the rhinovirus as soon as the temperature drops. So, what should you do if the common cold finds its way into your system? Well, actually, it's more like what shouldn't you do. Read on for all the things to avoid doing so that your bad cold doesn't worse and so you don't put other people at risk of getting sick.

Take antibiotics

By definition, antibiotics are medications used to treat infections caused by bacteria. The rhinovirus, as its name suggests, is caused by a virus. Therefore, not only do antibiotics not work on the common cold, but taking them unnecessarily can make your body resistant to them should you need them later on. Seeing as more than 2.8 million Americans contract an antibiotic-resistance infection annually, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), do yourself a favor and only take antibiotics when you actually need them.

Drink orange juice

Despite what you've heard, drinking orange juice actually does more harm than good when it comes to common cold treatment. Because orange juice is so acidic, it will burn the membranes in your throat when you're sick and further irritate them. As Michael Klaper, MD, warns on his website, "Do not burn your inflamed throat membranes with acid liquids! Avoid orange juice (yes, orange juice!), citrus, pineapple, cola drinks, or any liquid that is acidic in nature, until your throat is pain-free."

Blow your nose with excess force

Growing up, your parents or school nurse might've told you to blow your nose hard to get all the gunk out of it. But, according to research published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases in 2000, blowing your nose with too much force can actually propel mucus into the sinuses and cause a sinus infection. When you're blowing your nose, your safest bet is to do so gently, clearing out just one nostril at a time.

Or blow your nose too often

Blowing your nose too often is just as bad as blowing your nose with too much force. According to a 2016 article from the experts at the University of California at Berkeley, turning to tissues too often "can rupture the small blood vessels in the nose and cause nosebleeds, especially if the mucosal lining is already irritated from a cold."

Not get enough sleep

When you come down with a cold, your antibodies work overtime to fight off the infection and restore your health. But sleep deprivation prevents your immune system from doing its job. In fact, according to one 2017 study published in the journal Sleep, getting anything less than seven hours of rest can significantly impair your immune system. Actually, even if you don't already have a cold, a 2015 study also published in the journal Sleep showed that people who don't get enough sleep are more susceptible to catching a cold.

Stress out

Try to take it easy if and when the rhinovirus enters your system. According to the American Psychological Association, simply being stressed out impairs your immune system, thereby making it harder for the body to fight off bacteria and viruses. This is especially important for older individuals to pay attention to, as the aging process naturally weakens your immune system.

Wash your hands too often

Though doctors recommend washing your hands on a regular basis during cold and flu season to ward off bacteria, doing so in excess can actually weaken your immune system and make you more prone to getting—and staying—sick. A 2011 from the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that living in too clean of an environment—which includes excessive hand-washing—can harm your immune system and prevent your body from properly fighting infections.

Not drink enough water

There's a reason why doctors recommend drinking at least eight glasses of water every day. When you're dehydrated, you limit the secretion of antimicrobial proteins into your saliva, as one 2012 study in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism explains. Since these proteins play a huge role in your body's natural defenses, not drinking enough water ultimately hinders your ability to ward off infections.

Exercise too hard

Though you might not want to stop your intense workouts just because you have a little sniffle or cough, keeping up with your gym schedule while sick could end up prolonging the infection and even making it worse, according to one 1994 paper published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine.

The good news? Another 2017 study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that just one 20-minute session of moderate exercise can benefit the immune system and help fight off infections. So, yes, you can work out when you have a cold—just make sure to keep it light.

Or use the machines at the gym

For everyone else's sake, it's best not to use any of the equipment or machines at the gym until you feel like your cold has left your system. "If you would not like the person next to you on the treadmill or who finishes before you on the elliptical to be sneezing and coughing and wiping their nose, then do your fellow gym mates a favor and do a lighter workout at home instead," Richard E. Besser, MD, told Health.

Use too much nasal spray

Be careful about using too much nasal spray on your congested nose. Doing so can cause something called the rebound phenomenon, in which the blood vessels in your nose become immune to the effects of nasal spray and the clogging gets worse.

Eat sugary snacks

Nobody wants to give up their favorite candies and baked goods, but you're going to have to—at least for a few days—if you want to get rid of your cold once and for all. That's because "eating sugar can significantly slow down your immune system cell function and interfere with your ability to find and fight off the bacteria you are trying to avoid," explains naturopathic doctor Julia St. Clair.

Unsplash/Антон Воробьев

If your cold is making you cough up all kinds of foreign substances, then lighting up is only going to make your symptoms worse. As Brandi Black, a registered holistic nutritionist, explains, cigarettes are "known for wearing down the immune system." When you're sick with a cold, your lungs are already working twice as hard to rid your body of the infection, and the last thing they need is an influx of cigarette smoke to make their job even harder.

Drink alcohol

When you suspect you're coming down with a cold, cancel any plans you have coming up that will tempt you to drink alcohol. A 2015 study published in the journal Alcohol found that just one night of heavy drinking can significantly impair the immune system's ability to do its job.


"If you have a cold you can't get under control by over-the-counter medications, I wouldn't fly at all," Jeffrey Linder, MD, an associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told Condé Nast Traveler. Not only does flying while sick put your fellow passengers at risk, but it will also make your in-air experience miserable (read: painfully clogged ears for days). The end just doesn't justify the means.

Go to work

Even if you don't want to admit to yourself that you're coming down with something, it's not right to go to work with a cold and put your coworkers at risk by coughing and sneezing in their presence. "Days at the office can get busy, which can make you forget how your body is feeling and what it needs," explains registered practical nurse Jocelyn Nadua, care coordinator at C-Care Health Services. "If you go to work, you may not have the time to drink the proper amount of fluids and eat the nutrients your body needs."

Not consume vitamin C

Just because you shouldn't drink orange juice while sick with a cold doesn't mean that you should skimp on your vitamin C intake. When researchers at the University of Helsinki studied the effects of the vitamin on the virus in 2017, they found that people who consumed 8 grams of vitamin C per day were able to shorten the duration of their sickness by 19 percent.

Not sure what to eat to obtain vitamin C outside of O.J.? Try green and red peppers, kale, and broccoli.

Skimp on zinc

When you're feeling under the weather, another nutrient that you'll want to make sure you're getting enough of is zinc. According to one 2017 study published in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases, people who consume zinc acetate lozenges while sick with a cold recover three times faster than those who aren't using them.

Avoid probiotics

If you want to nip your cold in the bud, then you should seriously up your probiotic intake while your body works to get healthy again. Why? When researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey studied rates of sickness among college students in 2013, they found that those who took probiotics had symptoms that were 34 percent less severe and colds that were two days shorter than the students who didn't take any probiotic supplements.

Cough into your hand
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When a coughing fit comes on in a crowded, public space, most people have the immediate instinct to use their hand to cover their mouths and prevent the spreading of germs. But while this gesture comes from a good place, the unfortunate reality is that coughing into your hand is actually worse than just letting it out into the open.

According to the U.K.'s National Health Service, the rhinovirus lives longer on surfaces than it does in the air. To avoid transferring your cold to others, your best bet is to cough into your sleeve, which tends to make less contact with others and other surfaces, too.


A combination of lack of sleep and medicine-induced drowsiness makes driving with a cold a bad idea. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as reported by the CDC, an estimated 72,000 crashes and 44,000 injuries in 2013 were due to drowsy driving. Do yourself and everyone around you a favor and just call an Uber if you really need to get somewhere while you're sick.

Skip breakfast

Though breakfast is always important, the morning meal is especially vital when it comes to fighting off a cold. When researchers at Cardiff University studied the rhinovirus in 2002, they found that one of the factors that played a role in whether their subjects got sick was how often they ate breakfast.

Be pessimistic

When you have a cold, how you choose to perceive your predicament could be the difference between recovering quickly and suffering days. In fact, according to a definitive 2011 study from Carnegie Mellon University, optimistic individuals are less likely to experience the typical signs and symptoms associated with the common cold, even when they are infected with the virus.