Colds may not be as serious as a nasty bout of flu, but they can be just as unpleasant to endure. The cold remains common and a cure medicine's elusive holy grail, but you don't have to be stoic about sniffles, sneezes and rheumy, red eyes.

Conventional medicine can't help much with the common cold. Like the flu, a cold is caused by a virus, making antibiotics useless to treat either.

Over-the-counter remedies can alleviate cold symptoms, reduce severity, and hopefully even its duration.

The prospect of the latter is open to debate, since a witty sufferer once remarked: "A cold untreated lasts seven miserable days. Treated, it goes away promptly in just one week."

Most colds do disappear without any help at all, after they have run the course from stuffy head to drippy nose, but unfortunately science can't keep you free of them.

The viruses that cause colds are many, distinct and mutating all the time, making a "magic bullet" all the more impossible.

Prevention strategies combine a healthy diet, supplements and lifestyle habits (including restful sleep). They are no guarantee, of course, but they can increase the probability of making it through winter without going through boxes of tissues.

If you still get sick despite your disciplined lifestyle, then natural therapies can ease the worst excesses of the bugs that manage to penetrate your immune system's defence mechanisms.

Natural remedies are not a one-size-fits-all approach, though. Johannesburg homeopath, naturopath and acupuncturist Dr Philip Sherwin points out that one remedy may work wonders for one person and do absolutely nothing for the next.

Sherwin does blood tests on patients with cold symptoms to find out exactly what they need.

Consultation with a professional increases the odds of getting the right remedy, he says.

15 ways to beat a common cold:

1. Vitamin C: a stalwart in the body's defences against all kinds of viruses. Take up to 2 000mg a day. If you dislike taking supplements, then eat more citrus fruits, kiwi fruit or pomegranates which are all high in Vitamin C.

2. Septoguard: a natural antibiotic product made from eight herbs.

3. Ginger: make a delicious hot drink with ginger, lemon juice and a dash of honey.

4. Echinacea: a plant with claimed immune-boosting properties, available in liquid form.

5. Cold Break: ingredients include Vitamin C, zinc, elderberry, liquorice and grape seed extract.

6. Colloidal silver: a natural anti-biotic, it is pure, metallic silver particles suspended in pure water. The liquid doesn't look like it contains anything, let alone something as heavy as silver, but it does have a slightly metallic taste. (While some therapists swear by it as an immune booster, colloidal silver remains a controversial treatment. So, if you want to find out more, do some research and then decide.)

7. Flupac: a combination of homeopathic remedies Sherwin developed to act as a vaccine, and as treatment to be taken orally.

8. Prime 3: an antioxidant product containing, among other things, Vitamins A and B, brown rice, spirulina, spinach, green tea, grape seed and phytonutrients, available from distributors. Take three capsules twice a day.

9. Acupuncture: an ancient Chinese therapy in which needles are inserted into specific points along the body's meridians (energy pathways) to treat blockages and allow healing energy to flow through more effectively.

10. Light fast: diet won't really help shorten duration very much when the cold is in full, sneezy swing, but you can alleviate symptoms with a light fast.

Drink lots of liquids, such as diluted fruit juices in summer and clear soups in winter.

For the rest of the time, strongly avoid sugar. Sugar, especially in its refined form in cakes, sweets, biscuits, chocolates, disturbs the metabolism and insulin levels and causes blood sugar problems that play havoc with your immune system.

Parktown health therapist Dora Makhubela suggests essential oils and massage to treat the worst

symptoms of colds. She reminds you that just because essential oils are natural does not mean they are without risks. Some oils should not be used by pregnant women. Others can exacerbate conditions such as asthma, Makhubela says. Many oils should not be used directly on the skin and are best used with a few drops in a bigger quantity of a "carrier" oil such as almond.

Essential oils are best used under specialist supervision, says Makhubela, but you can use some on your own at home. Her suggestions include:

11. Eucalyptus and peppermint oil: rub a few drops in a carrier oil such as almond or grape seed oil. Get your loving spouse to rub the mix on your back.

12. Lavender oil: can be used on its own, carefully, but may sting on an open wound or near a nose that is red from too much wiping.

A few drops on a tissue, or in boiling water and then inhaled from the steam, can help you sleep.

So too can rubbing a few drops on your temples, or placing them on your pillow.

13. Tea tree oil: a few drops in hot water can be used as a soothing gargle.

14. Lymphatic drainage massage: a form of massage that improves the body's circulation can help to reduce the severity and duration of a cold.

15. Reflexology: an ancient form of foot massage that also helps to boost circulation.