Spoiler: It’s not vitamin C tablets.
The common cold doesn’t typically put you in danger: The symptoms aren’t usually life-threatening and the risk of complications is low. Still, cold symptoms can be a drag to deal with, especially if they affect your sleep or cause you to miss work, school, or your friend’s dinner party.
To be frank, there’s nothing you can do to completely absolve your risk of the cold. There’s no vaccine to keep away the common cold, after all. It’s also a myth that loading up on vitamin C can fend off a cold: Research shows that it didn’t reduce the frequency of colds (although vitamin C *did* help to reduce the length of the cold and the severity of cold symptoms as part of an overall healthy diet).
Instead, good hygiene is the best way to lower your risk of developing the common cold. That’s because cold viruses invade the body through the mouth or nose, either from inhaling germ particles from an infected person, or from touching your mouth or nose after touching a contaminated surface or object. Practicing good hygiene can help keep those viruses away.
Reduce the risk of ushering the cold into your body with these tips:
Wash hands regularly with soap and water. Don’t forget the trouble spots: under the fingernails, between fingers, and down onto your wrists. And by the way, you don't need to wash with scalding hot water.
Use an alcohol-based sanitizer if you don’t have a sink around. Either way, wash or sanitize before eating or cooking, after coughing or sneezing, and after using the bathroom. If you’re helping someone who’s sick with the common cold, wash or sanitize after contact with them.
Use the “vampire cough,” and encourage others in your family to do so as well. Sneezing and coughing into the crook of your elbow helps keep germs off your hands, which reduces the spread of cold-causing germs in your household.
Avoid close contact with infected friends and family. You don’t have to quarantine them—just avoid hugs and kisses until their symptoms fade.
Disinfect items that get a lot of attention in the house, such as doorknobs, light switches, toys, and the fridge handle.
Following these tips and *still* getting the cold? Here are innocent reasons you always catch a cold.
Common colds: does vitamin C keep you healthy? Bethesda, MD: National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2017. (Accessed on February 12, 2019 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279544/.)
Common colds: protect yourself and others. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on October 24, 2019 at https://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/.)
Patient education: the common cold in adults (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2019. (Accessed on October 24, 2019 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/the-common-cold-in-adults-beyond-the-basics.)
Vitamin C: fact sheet for health professionals. Washington, DC: National Institutes of Health, Office on Dietary Supplements. (Accessed on February 12, 2019 at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/.)