The Common Cold Remedy Myth

While 20 to 30 percent of colds have unknown causes, the majority of colds most patients suffer from are caused by different types of viruses. Actually, about 200 different viruses, including the influenza virus and the rhinovirus, can cause people to develop colds.

As a result, typical cold treatments focus on reducing the symptoms and duration of the cold, rather than curing colds altogether (Keep in mind that illnesses and diseases caused by viruses, such as HIV and the flu, are currently incurable).

Some of the cold symptoms that products like over-the-counter (OTC) cold syrups and lozenges treat include:

  • coughing
  • ear aches
  • stuffy and/or runny noses
  • sinus pain
  • sniffling
  • sore throat.

Depending on your current symptoms and other possible health conditions from which you may suffer, the types of cold treatments that will be effective for you will vary.

For example, while a cold sufferer experiencing a sore throat will likely get relief by taking lozenges, another person suffering from ear aches due to a cold may be better suited by administering ear drops and taking decongestant medications.

However, with the variety of potential cold treatments on the market, keep in mind that some products that claim to be remedies are, in fact, ineffective at treating the symptoms of colds.

In this section, we will outline some of the cold remedies that don’t work. Our articles will explain why each is ineffective, including information any related side effects or complications associated with each.


Antibiotics are byproducts of microorganisms that are effective in killing and/or reducing the growth of bacteria and fungi. As a result, they are powerful treatments for many fungal and bacterial diseases. However, if an illness is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not only ineffective but also potentially harmful.

Because antibiotics attack bacteria, in the presence of a virus, these drugs can actually kill some of the beneficial bacteria that our bodies need to stay healthy. In some cases, healthy bacteria that may combat the existing cold can be reduced, creating an ideal environment for the cold virus to replicate and grow stronger.

If you are suffering from a cold and are unsure of what type of treatment is best, talk to your doctor. Avoid taking antibiotics unless your doctor specifically prescribes them.


Antihistamines are types of drugs that effectively reduce the symptoms of allergies by limiting our bodies’ production of histamines (natural substances our body produce in response to an allergy). By reducing the concentration of histamines in our blood, antihistamines also minimize the sneezing, runny noses and inflammation associated with allergic reactions.

Yet, while antihistamines are suitable treatments for allergies, they aren’t effective or appropriate for treating colds. Although colds and allergies can have similar symptoms, the distinct causes of each require different treatments. Specifically, because colds don’t cause our bodies to produce histamines, taking antihistamines won’t relieve the associated symptoms.

Rather than taking an antihistamine to reduce cold symptoms, consider trying vitamins and herbs specifically geared towards treating colds. If, however, you are unsure of whether or not your symptoms are caused by allergies or a cold, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis before you start taking antihistamines.


Common Cold Centre (n.d.). General Common Cold Information. Retrieved October 29, 2007 from the Cardiff University Web site:

Osborn, Emilie (updated September 2007). Antibiotics and the Common Cold. Retrieved October 29, 2007 from the DrGreene Web site: