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What's the truth behind "sweating out a cold"? Sometimes when I am sick, people suggest that I go for a run or something to sweat it out, but it seems like my body is a little weak and that's the last thing I should be doing. Is this just a myth or is there any truth to "sweating out" sickness?
– Miss Myth
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The idea that you can “sweat out a cold” by exercising or sitting in a sauna is an old wives tale. However, compared to other home remedies, this one actually seems to have some scientific logic behind it. In response to infections, such as a cold virus, the body releases inflammatory chemicals that raise the body’s temperature causing a fever. Some viruses and bacteria have narrow temperature windows at which they can survive and a fever is your body’s way of creating an unfavorable environment for the virus. The old wives tale about “sweating out a cold” is likely derived from this observation.
Unfortunately, letting a fever run its course has not been shown to be an effective treatment against infections. This is why we often treat fevers with medicines such as Tylenol. In reality, attempting to sweat out a cold by exercising or heating up the body is much more likely to cause harm and prolong the cold symptoms – so your instinct is correct. The best way to shorten the course of a cold is to conserve energy and stay hydrated with plenty of fluids. Light exercise shouldn’t cause problems, but excessive exercise with the intent to cause heavy sweating will only tire the body out and cause further dehydration. The best way to recover from the common cold or flu is to hydrate with plenty of fluids, stay rested, and treat the symptoms of sinus congestion, sore throat, etc. with over the counter cold medicines.
Other old wives tale remedies for colds have varying results when scientifically tested. These include chicken soup, hot toddies (hot water and whiskey), vitamin C, garlic, and the concept of “feed a cold, starve a fever.” Most of these remedies will likely have some benefit if you believe they will work simply because of the placebo effect, but none of them are officially advised or supported by the medical community.
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