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Folks try anything to cure a cold

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So, your head feels like it's full of cotton. And your nose like someone installed a faucet. Your throat burns, your voice sounds like a road grader and your chest feels like an elephant sat on it. You cough. You sneeze. You sniffle.

Poor baby, you have a cold. And for pure misery, there's not much that equals the "common" cold.No wonder over-the-counter medications to relieve cold symptoms constitute the largest segment of the pharmaceutical market. No wonder Americans spend $1.9 billion a year on these remedies.

No wonder we lament the fact that no one has yet found a cure for this ailment. But it's not because we haven't tried.

Visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia estate, and they'll tell you how the founding father plunged his feet into a bucket of icy, cold water every morning because he thought that would ward off colds. Did it work? Well, Jefferson did live to the nice age of 83 -- in an era when colds could lead to deadly pneumonia.

In 1824, Philadelphia physician Thomas Cooper offered this advice for curing a cold: "When overtaken with chills and shivering, wait until the hot fit (fever) and pour a bucket or two of cold water over the naked body."

Those early Americans apparently had a thing for cold water, but it wasn't their only tactic. Other preventions and treatments from the 1800s included everything from warm mustard plasters on your chest to toast boiled in tea, enemas, vomiting, leeches, paper in the soles of the shoes, bear grease smeared all over the body and flannel underwear.

In her 1861 "Book of Household Management," Isabella Beeton offers this advice: "A flannel dipped in boiling water, and sprinkled with turpentine, laid on the chest as quickly as possible, will relieve the most severe cold or hoarseness." Or, she said, a boiled decoction of linseed, raisins, licorice, sugar candy, rum and vinegar was "considered infallible" -- if taken in time.

An 1888 book called "The Successful Housekeeper" offers treatment for a sore throat: "Cut slices of salt pork or fat bacon. Simmer a few moments in hot vinegar and apply the meat to the throat as hot as possible. When this is taken off, and the throat is relieved, put around a bandage of soft flannel. A gargle of equal parts of borax and alum, dissolved in water, is also excellent, to be used frequently."

And this advice on avoiding colds: "Females in a cold climate should wear flannel next to their skin, and woolen stockings under silk or cotton. Consumption came in with silk stockings and muslin dresses and can only be banished with woolen clothing."

Or, how about this remedy from the Old Country: "Just as chicken soup is known as the Jewish penicillin, garlic is known as the Russian penicillin," notes a book called "Chicken Soup & Other Folk Remedies." "It has been reported that colds have actually disappeared within hours -- a day at most -- after taking garlic."

It all just goes to show how then, as now, people tried almost anything to get rid of a cold.

And although we still don't have a cure, we do know a bit more about colds these days. For example, more than 100 different viruses cause cold symptoms. On average, adults catch two to four colds a year. Boys tend to get more colds than girls, but women get more colds than men. Tonsils have no bearing on catching colds.

And as some have noted: With the best of treatment, a cold will generally run its course in 14 days; without any treatment at all it will last two weeks.