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While the common cold has no cure, there are many rumored remedies — including that drinking whiskey may help reduce cold symptoms.

Unfortunately, throwing back a shot or mixing up a hot toddy won’t help fight off a cold. In fact, it could make your cold last longer.

This article will help explain why whiskey won’t help a cold. In addition, we’ll look at some cold remedies that may actually help ease your symptoms.

There are lots of thoughts on why whiskey is helpful for a cold. Let’s look at some of the most common and whether there’s any scientific evidence to back up these claims.

Myth: Alcohol is a disinfectant, so it can help you get over a cold

One of the theories as to why whiskey may help treat a cold is because alcohol is a disinfectant. It’s true that alcohol is a key component of hand sanitizers, which help kill germs that you may pick up when you touch contaminated surfaces.

However, alcohol is only effective as a topical disinfectant. In other words, it works on the surface of your skin, but not as a disinfectant when you drink it. This means alcohol doesn’t help kill cold viruses or other germs inside your body.

Myth: Alcohol’s decongestant properties can help treat cold symptoms

Alcohol is rumored to work as a decongestant, but actually, the reverse is true.

Small amounts of alcohol can cause vasodilation — a widening of blood vessels — which can worsen a runny nose or congestion. Medicines with pseudoephedrine will tighten blood vessels (vasoconstrict), which is why they can help relieve congestion.

In addition, there are several natural decongestants that may help ease your congestion, such as:

Myth: Alcohol is a cough suppressant

Alcohol is added to cough medicines, but it’s probably not for the reason you think. Some of the compounds found in cough medicine don’t dissolve easily in water but do dissolve in ethanol (alcohol).

As a result, cough syrup manufacturers may incorporate a small amount of alcohol so the medications mix. Alcohol may also act as a preservative for cough medicines, which helps extend these products’ shelf life.

This means alcohol, like whiskey, isn’t acting as a cough suppressant in cough medicines. Instead, it’s just a base for mixing other key ingredients.

Fact: Alcohol is immunosuppressive

Not only is alcohol ineffective at fighting off the common cold, it could worsen your symptoms. The reason for this is due to alcohol’s immunosuppressive effect. So, drinking alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can weaken your immune system and make it harder for your body to fight off infections, like the common cold.

Alcohol can also dehydrate you by removing fluids from your body through your kidneys. When you’ve got a cold, it’s important to drink fluids that hydrate you. This can help flush toxins from your body, thin out mucus in your respiratory system, and make you feel better.

Due to alcohol’s immunosuppressive and dehydrating effects, it’s not recommended as a remedy for the common cold.

A hot toddy is a rumored cold remedy that contains hot water, lemon juice, honey, and alcohol — such as brandy, rum, or whiskey. While hot toddies may sound like a tasty remedy, the alcohol in the drink isn’t what’s likely to make you feel better.

The combination of warmth, steam, and liquids can help ease symptoms like a stuffy nose and sore throat. Plus, research has shown that honey has antimicrobial properties that may make it an effective treatment for some cold symptoms, especially a cough.

Whiskey is the one ingredient in a hot toddy that’s not likely to help ease the symptoms of a cold due to its dehydrating and immunosuppressive effects.

Instead of adding whiskey, you could try an alcohol-free toddy or consider other warm drinks that may be more nourishing. Examples include lemon tea with honey, vegetable broth, or chicken soup.

Alcohol isn’t the only rumored cold remedy that’s ineffective. Ginseng, echinacea, vitamin C, and vitamin D supplementation have not been shown to be effective as remedies for colds.

Antibiotics are also ineffective for colds because they treat bacterial infections, not viruses like those that cause colds.

However, according to research, some remedies may be helpful in reducing cold symptoms until your body can clear the virus. These include:

  • Zinc: Taking 80 to 92 mg (milligrams) of zinc per day may help reduce the duration and severity of the common cold. For maximum effectiveness, start taking zinc within 3 days of the start of your cold.
  • Lactobacillus casei: According to research, consuming 200 g (grams) per day of dairy products containing the probiotic Lactobacillus casei may shorten the duration of a cold, especially among older adults.
  • Honey: As mentioned earlier, honey’s antimicrobial properties may help ease cold symptoms, especially a cough, in both adults and children ages 2 and older. Do not give honey to a child under the age of 12 months as it can cause infant botulism in young children.
  • Topical vapor rub: Research has shown that applying a vapor rub to the skin that contains camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oil may be helpful in reducing cough, congestion, and sleep difficulties associated with a cold.

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, may also help reduce cold-related discomforts. However, they won’t reduce the duration of your cold.

Whiskey isn’t recommended as a cold remedy. In fact, it could worsen your cold symptoms due to its dehydrating and immunosuppressive effects.

Instead of whiskey, consider warm water or herbal tea with lemon and honey. Other remedies that may be effective include zinc, dairy products that contain Lactobacillus casei probiotics, topical vapor rub, and OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.