Is it OK to drink alcohol with a cold?

Medically reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson, words by Rhalou Allerhand
·7-min read
Photo credit: PeopleImages - Getty Images
Photo credit: PeopleImages - Getty Images

From Netdoctor

Having a cold is never fun. What starts as a telltale tickle in the back of your throat can turn into several weeks off sick and spread through your family like wildfire. When you're struck down by a stinking cold, most people try and go about their normal lives and usually get better within a week or two. But (unless we're on lockdown, in which case stay at home!) should you go to work with a cold, is it OK to drink alcohol and is fresh air a good idea if you have the sniffles?

Dr Emma Pooley from BMI The Park Hospital and Dr Edward Gaynor from Bupa answer your most common cold and flu questions, so you can focus on getting better:

Can I go to the gym when I have a cold?

A good workout can give you a much-needed energy boost, but will strenuous exercise set your illness back? The official line is rest is best, so press pause on your workout for a week. Taking time off to recover is not going to drastically impact your fitness levels but it will make you feel well again.

'When you have a cold, your immune system is already activated to fight the infection, so doing strenuous exercise puts your body under additional stress,' says Dr Pooley. 'In my opinion, it's better to rest until you feel able to work out properly again, otherwise you run the risk of prolonging your illness and sabotaging your training sessions further.

'Listen to your body. If you feel tired, are having trouble breathing and generally are lacking in energy, it's probably better to give the gym a miss,' she adds.

⚠️ If you suspect you might have COVID-19 the current government advice outlines that you should arrange to have a test and stay at home and self-isolate for 10 days from when your symptoms start.

It going outside with a cold OK?

Is fresh air good for a cold or should you ride it out indoors? It's normal to get cabin fever after a day or two in bed and a gentle walk in the fresh air should be fine, as long as you feel up to it.

'You can't catch a cold by being cold, but you should certainly wrap up warm if you do go out,' says Dr Gaynor. 'It's generally not wise to do anything more strenuous – you'll already be dehydrated, tired and achy, and may be having problems breathing. Strenuous exercise will make all of those symptoms worse.'

Photo credit: White Packert - Getty Images
Photo credit: White Packert - Getty Images

Can I drink alcohol if I have a cold?

From a healing hot toddy to a night on the tiles, it's tempting to try and drink through a cold. But is booze really a cure-all, or will it set your snotty nose back a few days? Bad news folks, alcohol is not the solution, so it's best to steer clear of the whisky until you're feeling better.

'Alcohol disrupts sleep, which is essential for your body to make a full recovery, and is also best avoided with some over-the-counter cold remedies,' advises Dr Pooley. 'It's best not to drink alcohol when you have a cold.'

Instead, eat healthy food, drink lots of fluids and rest, says Dr Pooley. 'If you want a dash of whiskey in your hot toddy, it's not the end of the world but you'll probably recover quicker without it.'

Dr Gaynor agrees. 'My view is that when I have a cold I don't want to do anything that might prolong it, and alcohol will do that, so I'd avoid it for that reason.'

Should I take time off work with a cold?

If you have a lingering cold, it's tempting to soldier on and keep going to work, but this could prolong your illness and potentially pass on your germs to co-workers. So don't be the office super-spreader and stay at home.

'People do feel guilty about taking time of work with a cold, but you're unlikely to be productive if you're tired and don't feel well, plus you're likely to be highly contagious in the early stage,' says Dr Gaynor. 'If you can rest, do.'

Is it OK to go to work with a cold?

If you have a runny nose but otherwise feel fine you might feel like inflicting a strict quarantine on the whole house is a waste of time. But if in doubt, always use your common sense and err on the side of caution.

If you're running a high temperature, feel exhausted and can barely get out of bed, you're probably in no fit state to go to work, says Dr Pooley. 'If, however, you're past the sneezing and coughing phase and feel well enough to go in, follow best practice in terms of hygiene advice: cough or sneeze into a tissue rather than your hand, and cough into the crook of your elbow to prevent germs from spreading from your hands to other surfaces.'

'Get a gel hand sanitiser, wash your hands often and thoroughly and use disposable paper towels to dry then with,' she adds.

'Remember, though, that you'll recover faster if you rest properly, and there's less risk of your cold developing into something nasty like a chest infection if you take the time you need. You don't want to go back only to find yourself floored by the next virus doing the rounds two weeks later.'

Photo credit: RubberBall Productions - Getty Images
Photo credit: RubberBall Productions - Getty Images

Can I go to a party with a cold?

If you've been invited to the coolest party in town and you're suddenly struck down with a stinking cold, you'd be forgiven for second guessing your symptoms and trying to fast track recovery. Sorry folks, this one is a no-brainer!

'Don't go to a party or children's party if you're still coughing and sneezing,' warns Dr Pooley. 'You'll still be infectious at this stage so stay away, especially if very little babies will be there. If you're over the worst and the cold is at the final stages it's probably OK, but check with the parent first.

When is a cold actually flu?

If you have the flu as opposed to the common cold, then the above advice does differ somewhat and you should most definitely spend longer at home in bed - but if you have the full-blown flu chances are you won't want to go out anyway!

'Flu is caused by a completely different virus to those that cause colds,' says Dr Pooley. 'The culprit is the influenza virus – strains A and B specifically. Flu is a much more serious illness that can have you bed-bound for several days with a high temperature (38C+), chills, headache, a runny nose and muscles aches and pains.'

Dr Gaynor agrees that flu needs to be taken seriously. 'If you have an underlying illness, are over 65 or suspect a child under three years old has flu, seek medical advice,' he says. 'Otherwise, talk to your pharmacist about the best medicine to take to help reduce the symptoms while you recover. Don't forget to see if you're eligible for the flu jab – see NHS Choices for the current criteria.'

What about coronavirus?

If you think you might have COVID-19 then the above advice differs. If your cough is a continuous dry cough accompanied by a high temperature or fever and you experience a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, the current government advice states that you should arrange to have a test for COVID-19 and stay at home and self-isolate for 10 days from when your symptoms start.

Last updated: 20-11-2020

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