woman with cold steaming
woman with cold steaming
(Image credit: VOISIN/PHANIE/REX/Shutterstock)

Believe it or not, scientists could be on the cusp of a cure for the common cold. According to Peter Openshaw, professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, a nasal spray 'vaccine' could be made publicly available within five years. The vaccine, developed by Dutch biotechnology firm Mucosis and currently being tested on human volunteers by Openshaw's team, has already been found to work on mice and rats. Inoculation is thought to stimulate the production of antibodies in the nose, which can kill the cold virus before it has a chance to replicate.

Until that momentous day arrives, though, what can we do to speed up the recovery process when the dreaded sniffles strike? Read on to discover how to get rid of a cold as quickly, easily and painlessly as possible...

1. Don't reach for the medication

You might be tempted to reach for the decongestants, swallow a spoonful of cough mixture or pop a fever-fighting paracetamol pill, but remember: your symptoms are signs that your body is fighting the infection. Decongestants work by restricting blood flow in the nose and throat, but increased blood flow can speed up the recovery process. Similarly, having a fever can shorten the duration of a cold, since an increase in body temperature increases blood flow and helps to kill viruses, whilst coughing is the body's way of clearing mucus. And no, unless your cold or flu has given way to a bacterial infection, antibiotics won't help.

2. Don't blow too hard

Blowing your nose too vigorously can push phlegm and germs into the ears, causing infection. Experts recommend blowing gently into a tissue, one nostril at a time. Hold the other nostril closed with a finger.

3. Wash your hands

You can't become reinfected with the same cold twice, but, whilst your immune system is busy fighting the current infection, you are at increased risk of becoming infected with new germs, so ensure that you continue to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, and disinfect door handles and surfaces following visits from sniffy friends and family members. 4. Try salt water rinsing

Nasal rinsing can help to ease nasal congestion and clear viruses and bacteria from the nose. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a pint of boiling water and leave to cool before rinsing - use a neti pot, bulb syringe or simply a clean, cupped hand.

Gargling with salt water can soothe a sore throat, help to prevent mucus from the sinus passages draining down the throat and moisturise the cells at the back of the throat which guard against respiratory infection. Gargling three times a day could not only help you to recover more quickly, but even prevent a cold from taking hold in the first place, say experts.

5. Drink tea

Warm drinks can soothe sore throats and ease stuffiness by loosening secretions in the sinuses. Try elderberry tea - evidence suggests that elderberry may be an effective natural decongestant. Sweeten with a teaspoon of antiviral Manuka honey. Experts also recommend eating plenty of hot, low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth. Try to avoid alcohol, which can exacerbate nasal congestion. 6. Take a hot shower

Inhaling steam moisturises the nasal passages and helps to ease congestion. Take a hot shower, or treat yourself to an at-home steaming treatment. Cover your head with a light cotton towel and breathe in the steam from a just-cooled bowl of boiling water for 10 minutes, 2-4 times a day. Adding a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus oil can enhance the effects.

Don't fancy steaming? A humidifier can help to keep the nasal passages lubricated, and may allow you to sleep more easily by easing your breathing at night.

You might also like to try hot or cold therapy - holding a moist cold or warm flannel against the sides of the nose can ease blocked sinuses.

7. Try oil pulling

Advocates of oil pulling believe that the treatment may prevent and treat colds by "pulling" toxins from the mouth.

8. Rest

Getting plenty of sleep and avoiding unnecessary stress will encourage a speedier recovery. If you can, call in sick. If you can't, make sure you get an early night. 9. Take a zinc supplement

Beginning a course of zinc supplements within a day of cold symptom onset can speed recovery and reduce the severity of symptoms, according to researchers. "We're not sure exactly how zinc works, but one theory is that it actually prevents the cold virus from replicating," explains Dr Neil Schachter, director of respiratory care at New York's Mount Sinai Respiratory Center.

10. Try ginseng

According to researchers at the University of Alberta, people who take 200mg of ginseng twice daily during cold and flu season have shorter colds (with symptoms lasting, on average, 11 days, versus 16.5 for those who popped a placebo). 11. Eat smart

Sadly, comfort food (unless it's chicken soup) probably won't help you see your cold off. Stoke your immune system with plenty of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Spicy dishes can also help to ease congestion.

Find out what else to eat to feel better fast. 12. Meditate

Yes, meditating really could shorten the duration of your cold. The colds of people who meditate vanish 3 days earlier, according to scientific research.