According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults will have, on average, two to three colds each year, while children will have even more.

That means, we all get to experience those unpleasant symptoms: runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing, headache, body aches, and sore throat. It’s no wonder we turn to the internet looking for miracle cures.

One popular remedy is wearing wet socks to bed. We’ll tell you if it works or not. We’ll also fill you in on other folk remedies that may (or may not) cure or alleviate symptoms of the common cold.

Although no clinical research supports their claims, advocates of wearing wet socks to bed to cure a cold are convinced that the practice is effective.

Here’s their explanation: When your feet begin to cool, the blood vessels in your feet contract, sending good nutrients to your tissues and organs. Then, when your feet begin to warm up, the blood vessels dilate, which releases the toxins in the tissue.

The technique most recommended includes two pairs of socks: one pair of thin cotton socks and one pair of heavy wool socks. Here’s what you do:

  1. Soak your feet in warm water until your feet turn pink (5 to 10 minutes).
  2. While soaking your feet in warm water, soak the cotton socks in cold water.
  3. When your feet are ready, dry them off and then wring out the cotton socks and put them on your feet.
  4. Put the dry wool socks over the wet cotton socks.
  5. Get into bed, cover your feet, and then the following morning, remove both pairs of socks.

There’s no scientific evidence that wearing wet socks to bed will cure your cold. But there’s anecdotal evidence.

One explanation for people believing that it works could be the placebo effect.

Research from 2019 defines the placebo effect as “a fascinating phenomenon that occurs when a sham medical intervention causes improvement in a patient’s condition because of the factors associated with the patient’s perception of the intervention.”

The placebo effect

Sometimes, if people think a treatment will work, it does — even though, scientifically speaking, it shouldn’t.

The common cold is just that, common. It’s been around for generations. Because of its history and universality, many cures have been suggested, and many people believe that these cures are effective.

Some popular folk treatments even have some potential scientific support, including:

  • Chicken soup. A 2000 study suggests that chicken soup might have a mild anti-inflammatory effect, although it could be the steam from the soup helping to open up congestion.
  • Oysters. Oysters are rich in zinc, and a 2017 study indicates that zinc might help shorten the duration of a cold. Clinical trials to date have had varying results.
  • Beer. Proponents of beer as a cure for a cold suggest that a chemical found in hops (an ingredient in beer) called humulone might protect against cold viruses. A 2013 study suggested that humulone could be a useful product for the prevention or treatment of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection. RSV is a common cause of potentially serious respiratory tract inflammation in young children and babies.
  • Onions and garlic. Since both onions and garlic have antimicrobial properties, advocates of natural medicine suggest these foods can fight common cold viruses. It’s also believed that chopping onions, which causes the formation and subsequent release of syn-propanethial S-oxide tear-causing gas, can help with congestion.

Most often, colds are caused by rhinoviruses. Other viruses that are known to cause colds include:

People catch colds by coming in contact with these cold germs, typically by:

  • being too close to a person with a cold when they sneeze, cough, or blow their nose
  • touching your nose, mouth, or eyes after touching an item contaminated by cold germs, such as a doorknob or a toy

Once you’ve come in contact with the virus, cold symptoms usually appear one to three days later. Cold symptoms tend to last 7 to 10 days. You’re most likely not contagious after the first week.

How do medical professionals cure a cold? They don’t. There’s no set cure for the common cold.

However, your doctor may suggest the following to help you feel better while you wait for the cold to run its course:

  • Drink fluids.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Use throat sprays or cough drops.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers or cold medications.
  • Gargle with warm saltwater.

Don’t expect your doctor to recommend antibiotics, as colds are considered to be caused by a virus. Antibiotics are for bacterial infections and are not effective against viral infections.

To reduce your risk of getting a cold:

  • Keep your distance from anyone who has a cold.
  • Wash your hands often using soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your face (nose, mouth, and eyes) with unwashed hands.

From wearing wet socks to bed to eating oysters, there are many things some may consider to be home remedies for the common cold. Some of them even have little scientific support.

Folk remedies also have the added advantage of the placebo effect. If people believe that a cure is effective, that belief could be enough to make them feel better and get over a cold faster.

Truth is, there’s no cure for the common cold. However, there are ways to make you more comfortable while the cold runs its course, such as getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of water.