Can You Sweat Out a Cold? Why This ‘Remedy’ May Hurt Recovery
The common cold is one of the most common infectious diseases. Every year, millions of people contract the common cold, especially during winter. There are a lot of myths out there about how to shorten the duration of a cold. While there are cases where the old wives’ tale might be true, in most instances, these so-called “natural cures” are simply ineffective.
One popular misconception is that you can “sweat out a cold.” You may think of sweating out a cold as a way to get better, but it actually might cause more complications like dehydration that keep your body from healing fast.
In this post, you’ll learn about what causes a cold, and why sweating it out isn’t a good idea. You’ll also learn why bed rest and proper hydration are important in tackling a cold.
What Causes a Cold?
A cold is caused by viruses that infect your upper respiratory tract. The viruses invade your cells and use the cells' resources to multiply. As a result, your body launches an immune response. This is responsible for the increased secretion of mucous and subsequent congestion of your nasal passages.
Common cold spreads from one person to another through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs and you happen to inhale the respiratory droplets containing the virus. Cold viruses are highly contagious. If one person in your household or workplace gets infected, chances are you will catch a cold too.
Now, contrary to popular opinion, colds are not caused by chilly weather. Most people will catch a cold during the flu season. According to CDC reports, the flu season occurs in the fall or winter and peaks between December and February. However, this seasonal variation is not due to the weather itself but the modification of certain risk factors that favor the spread of the viruses.
For example, cold weather enhances the survival of cold viruses outside the body. Respiratory droplets carrying the cold viruses persist longer in the air since cold weather holds less moisture. Limited sunshine during the winter also interferes with vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D plays a role in boosting your immune system. Low Vitamin D levels increase your susceptibility to cold viruses. As a result, cold infections are more common during the cold season.
Symptoms of the Common Cold
Cold symptoms usually vary from person to person and with each episode depending on which virus is responsible for the infection and its severity. This doesn’t mean that you can't recognize a cold. Certain classical symptoms are characteristic of a cold. More often than not, you don’t need a medical practitioner’s diagnosis.
The symptoms of a cold may include:
Sore throat and irritation
Body temperature rises
General body weakness
Vomiting and diarrhea
Complications such as dehydration
You may experience multiple symptoms or only a single symptom. Symptoms of other respiratory infections may mimic those of a cold, so seek medical counsel if your symptoms worsen or the infection fails to clear within a week.
Can You Sweat Out a Cold?
Sweating is your body’s way of maintaining a physiological balance. Sweating cools the body when it’s hot and gets rid of waste products of metabolism. Beyond that, does sweating play a role in fighting infections like the common cold?
We haven’t seen conclusive scientific evidence that supports the idea of sweating out a cold. In fact, attempts to sweat out a cold may harm your health.
First, sweating means you’ll lose fluid and electrolytes, which can lead to dehydration. When you are dehydrated, your body lacks enough water to optimize its immune reaction to the cold viruses. Dehydration affects lymphatic drainage. The lymphatic system acts as a conduit for transporting white blood cells to and eliminating waste products from the infection site. The overall effect of dehydration is that your flu symptoms will persist due to the reduced potency of the immune system to fight the cold viruses.
Second, when you sweat, electrolyte loss has its concerns. Electrolytes include vital minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. During a cold infection, electrolytes strengthen the immune response by promoting cell signaling, a process by which cells communicate with each other. Losing electrolytes will compromise your immune system. Electrolytes also contribute to maintaining a healthy fluid balance and affect your blood pressure.
Some people base their arguments on the idea that the activities that induce sweating can help tackle a cold rather than sweating itself. Wellness enthusiasts may recommend a sauna. Steam baths or hot showers may act as temporary nasal decongestants, but they don’t have any proven effect on fighting cold viruses. Exercise is a great way to decongest too, but it will stress your body up and add to the stress of the infection.
In the long run, when done safely, both saunas and exercise can provide temporary relief by decongesting your nasal passages. However, they cause fluid and electrolyte loss through sweat, and this can dehydrate you, which makes it harder for your body to recover fast.
Do’s and Don’ts Of Managing Cold Symptoms
Cold symptoms will usually resolve without any treatment. The normal duration of cold symptoms is somewhere between 7–10 days, though the infection often peaks around the third day. A week is a long time to suffer from the uncomfortable effects of a cold. Is there a way to shorten the duration of a cold?
There are ways to support your body as it fights this infection. However, not all popular remedies are effective. Let’s explore a few of them and see which hold scientific ground.
Don’t Use Antibiotics for Viral Infections
To begin, you need to understand that antibiotics are not effective against the common cold. As we’ve discussed, the common cold is caused by viral infections. Antibiotics can help treat bacterial infections, not viral infections. Antibiotics have side effects, and antibiotic resistance cases are rising as we misuse antibiotics.
In general, physicians recommend adequate bed rest and proper hydration to shorten the duration of a cold. During this period, your body needs to focus its energy on fighting the cold virus. Light to moderate exercise may help stimulate blood flow and relieve nasal congestion, but listen to your body and don’t overextend yourself.
Do Maintain Fluid Levels
Drinking plenty of fluids helps your body replace fluids lost during your illness. Water helps to transport white blood cells to the site of infection to counter the cold viruses. Water also thins the mucus helping to relieve congestion in your nasal passages.
Do Stay Hydrated
If fever and sweating are among your symptoms, you are at an increased risk of dehydration. Dehydration may also result from reduced fluid intake due to a general lack of appetite, or uncommon symptoms of a cold such as vomiting and diarrhea. For dehydration, fluids are not the only thing you should focus on. Electrolytes also play a key role in mediating immune function and maintaining a healthy fluid balance.
For dehydration home remedies, some people recommend fluids such as chicken broth, lemon, or coconut water since they contain electrolytes and fluids. However, the quantities and ratios of electrolytes they contain aren’t optimal for your body. If you want to avoid and relieve dehydration fast with a great-tasting solution, consider an oral rehydration solution that contains a perfect balance of electrolytes and glucose. Glucose and electrolyte concentrations determine whether your cells take in or lose water. If your glucose and electrolyte levels are too high or too low, your fluid levels can become imbalanced.
How to Prevent Dehydration During a Cold
Cold symptoms such as fever, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea are notorious for causing dehydration. To avoid worsening dehydration, don’t try to sweat out the cold. Instead, rest, stay hydrated, and see a doctor if symptoms persist.
Water alone isn’t sufficient to meet your body’s fluid and electrolyte needs. The best way to rehydrate is by using a solution such as DripDrop, which has the vital electrolytes your body needs.
Explore our blog to learn more about what to drink when you’re sick. Get started with our most popular multi-flavor pouch for dehydration relief fast. Or, learn more about how you can save up to 25% on every purchase when you subscribe.