As cold season settles in for the duration, visits to the doctor for fevers, coughs, and sore throats are commonplace. A particularly virulent cold can lead to missed work, health insurance copays, and other out-of-pocket expenses. But don't give in to what may seem like the inevitable. These 12 frugal tips -- and others from around the world -- can help you ward off the common cold and deal with it if preventive measures fail.
No official verdict has been reached on whether echinacea prevents or cures a cold. However, research strongly suggests that drinking echinacea tea can help shorten the duration of a cold and ease the symptoms, including a runny nose or congestion. What's known for sure: Echinacea boosts the immune system and has antiviral properties. For about $5 a box or 30 cents a teabag, it can help build a strong immune system better at fighting off a cold.
A simple solution of salt and warm water serves as a cheap decongestant. When mixed together, these two ingredients may be as effective as over-the-counter nasal drops and sprays, which can cost up to $16. Experts recommend using the DIY solution with a neti pot or another type of nasal irrigation system.
Another affordable, cold-alleviating remedy: Soak a clean cloth in very warm water and apply to the face. A moist cloth held loosely over the nose and mouth for a minute or so is a tried and true method for thinning mucus. Reheat the cloth and repeat several times.
The cold virus thrives in dry environments, so use a humidifier to add moisture to the air and weaken the virus' chances of survival. A good room-size humidifier can cost less than $40 -- a worthwhile investment that may be cheaper than medications or a trip to urgent care.
Vitamin C packets cost less than 50 cents apiece and are one of the most powerful natural remedies for alleviating cold symptoms. Although vitamin C doesn't prevent the virus, it may shorten the length and severity of a cold -- slightly, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Add the nutrient to water and consume daily to help the body build cold-fighting abilities.
Hand washing doesn't make cold symptoms disappear, but it's one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs. A little soap, warm water, and 20 seconds of scrubbing can prevent costly medications and trips to the doctor.
When the human body is cold, it has trouble fighting off viruses, according to researchers at Yale University. The scientists found that cool temperatures in the nose, a common pathway for the cold virus, make it more difficult for the body to fight off the invading army. Stay warm by setting the thermostat to a comfortably toasty temperature, or by using a space heater.
Avoiding people who have cold symptoms is probably the most frugal tip for preventing a cold. The viruses that cause the common cold, including the rhinovirus, are highly contagious and can survive on objects we touch on a daily basis.
Drinking more fluids during a cold is essential, and a favorite home remedy recommended by doctors. Liquids thin mucus, prevent dehydration, and replace fluids lost due to fever or rapid breathing. Water and simple broths (chicken soup is the old standby) will do -- no need for pricey enhanced drinks.
A spoonful of honey can alleviate the coughing associated with the cold virus, according to a report in The Journal of Family Practice. The antioxidant and antimicrobial properties in honey act as a cough suppressant. A large jar of honey costs about as much as an over-the-counter cough suppressant, but just a tablespoon or two does the trick.
Smoking and secondhand smoke can weaken the body's immune system, making it more susceptible to the common cold virus. Smoke also irritates the lining of the throat and can increase the severity of a cold. During cold season, refrain from smoking and avoid environments filled with smoke. Buying a good, cheap air purifier might be a good idea, too.
Relaxation is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to ward off the common cold. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that intense amounts of stress are associated with increased rates of respiratory illness. Meditation, yoga, exercise, and decluttering are just a few no-cost ways to relax, unwind, and lighten the load on the body's immune system.