Home Remedies for Cold & Flu

Viruses are responsible for colds and flu, so antibiotics are not able to cure or prevent these illnesses. Plenty of rest, fluids, and home remedies can help relieve symptoms.

Colds and the flu are common illnesses that can cause many uncomfortable symptoms, such as:

  • a runny nose
  • blocked sinuses
  • a sore throat
  • coughing
  • headaches
  • body aches
  • fever or chills

Home Remedies

Being sick, even when you’re home in bed, isn’t fun. The combination of body aches, fever, chills, and nasal congestion can be enough to make anyone miserable.

There are plenty of home remedies that can alleviate your symptoms and get you back to normal. If you still feel sick after a few weeks, make an appointment with your doctor. If you have trouble breathing, have a rapid heartbeat, feel faint, or experience other severe symptoms, get medical help sooner.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C plays an important role in your body and has many health benefits. Along with limes, oranges, grapefruits, leafy greens, and other fruits and vegetables, lemons are a good source of vitamin C. Adding fresh lemon juice to hot tea with honey may reduce phlegm when you’re sick. Drinking hot or cold lemonade may also help.

While these drinks may not clear up your cold entirely, they can help you get the vitamin C that your immune system needs. Getting enough vitamin C can relieve upper respiratory tract infections and other illnesses.

Echinacea

Native Americans have used the herb and root of the echinacea plant to treat infections for more than 400 years. Its active ingredients include flavonoids, chemicals that have many therapeutic effects on the body. For example, flavonoids can boost your immune system and reduce inflammation.

Research on the herb’s effectiveness at fighting the common cold and flu has been mixed. But one review suggests that taking echinacea may lower your risk of developing the common cold by more than 50 percent. It may also reduce the length of a cold. If you’re a healthy adult, consider taking 1 to 2 grams of echinacea root or herb as a tea, three times daily, for no longer than one week.

Garlic

Garlic contains the compound allicin, which may have antimicrobial properties. Adding a garlic supplement to your diet might reduce the severity of cold symptoms. According to some research, it might even help you avoid getting sick in the first place.

More research needs to be done on the potential cold-fighting benefits of garlic. In the meantime, adding more garlic to your diet probably won’t hurt.

Honey

Honey has a variety of antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Drinking honey in tea with lemon can ease sore throat pain. Research suggests that honey is an effective cough suppressant, too. In one study, researchers found that giving children 10 grams of honey at bedtime reduced the severity of their cough symptoms. The children reportedly slept more soundly, which also helps reduce cold symptoms.

You should never give honey to a child younger than 1 year old, as it often contains botulinum spores. While they’re usually harmless to older children and adults, infants’ immune systems aren’t able to fight them off.

Ginger

The health benefits of ginger root have been touted for centuries, but now we have scientific proof of its curative properties. A few slices of raw ginger root in boiling water may help soothe a cough or sore throat. Research suggests that it can also ward off the feelings of nausea that so often accompany influenza. For example, one study found that just 1 gram of ginger can “alleviate clinical nausea of diverse causes.”

Chicken soup

Chicken soup may not be a cure-all, but it’s a great choice when you’re sick. Research suggests that enjoying a bowl of chicken soup with vegetables, prepared from scratch or warmed from a can, can slow the movement of neutrophils in your body. Neutrophils are a common type of white blood cell. They help protect your body from infection. When they’re moving slowly, they stay more concentrated in the areas of your body that require the most healing.

The study found that chicken soup was effective for reducing the symptoms of upper respiratory infections in particular. Low-sodium soup also carries great nutritional value and helps keep you hydrated. It’s a good choice, no matter how you’re feeling.

Probiotics

Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria and yeast that are found in your body, some foods, and supplements. They can help keep your gut and immune system healthy, and research indicates that probiotics may reduce your chance of getting sick with an upper respiratory infection.

For a delicious and nutritious source of helpful bacteria, include probiotic yogurt in your diet. Besides its potential benefits for your immune system, yogurt is a healthy snack that provides plenty of protein and calcium. Look for products that list live bacteria on the label.

Zinc

Studies suggest that zinc supplementation may help shorten the length of a cold and lessen symptoms.

Experts believe that this is because zinc prevents rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold, from replicating in the body.

People can take zinc as a tablet, lozenge, or syrup, but should always follow the dosage advice on the packaging. Too much zinc can cause nausea and stomach aches.

Zinc is available online and in pharmacies as a supplement or nasal spray. Using a zinc nasal spray can cause people to lose their sense of smell temporarily.

Menthol

Blocked sinuses and congested airways are common symptoms of a cold, which menthol can help relieve. Menthol comes from many types of mint plant. It has antibacterial and pain-relieving effects and is an ingredient in many vapor rubs.

People can also add menthol to hot water for a steam inhalation. Although a 2013 study found that menthol inhalation helped reduce coughing due to environmental irritants, there is limited research on its effectiveness in clearing congested airways.

Other research found that vapor rub containing menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor significantly improved sleep in children and adults with cold symptoms. However, the researchers found that the risks could outweigh the benefits, as menthol can sting and irritate the skin.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D-3 may be a useful supplement to prevent or reduce the chances of getting a cold.

Research has found a link between vitamin D supplementation and a reduced frequency of colds in university students.

People living in colder climates may also find that a supplement boosts their vitamin D levels during the winter months, when their skin may not get much exposure to sunlight.

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Oregano oil

Oregano contains thymol and carvacrol, which both have antibacterial effects. People traditionally use essential oils containing thymol to relieve headaches, diarrhea, and coughs.

People may find that taking oregano oil or rubbing it on the chest helps relieve cold symptoms.

Reducing stress and sleeping well

Stress or poor sleep may increase the risk of getting a cold or the flu.

One study suggests that lowering stress levels through mindfulness meditation practices or exercise reduces the risk of getting one of these illnesses.

People who participated in a mindfulness meditation or exercise program lost fewer work days due to illness than people in the control group.

A small study in 2015 also found that people who slept for fewer hours were more susceptible to colds.

Berries

Berries contain polyphenols, which have antiviral properties and may help fight flu viruses.

Research has shown that elderberries can reduce symptoms of the flu and that a cranberry beverage could help support immune function. In some in vitro studies, berry extracts demonstrated the potential to help fight off influenza.

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are also good sources of vitamin C, which can help support the immune system.

Other options

Vapor rub

You might not like the smell, but some old-fashioned topical ointments, such as vapor rub, appear to reduce cold symptoms in children older than 2 years. Just one or two applications before bed can help open air passages to combat congestion, reduce coughing, and improve sleep. Vapor rub is gaining traction among some doctors who encourage parents to avoid giving over-the-counter cold medicines to young children because of unwanted side effects.

Humidity

Influenza thrives and spreads more easily in dry environments. Creating more humidity in your home may reduce your exposure to this flu-causing virus. Increased humidity may also reduce nasal inflammation, making it easier to breathe when you’re sick. Temporarily adding a cool mist humidifier to your bedroom may help you feel more comfortable. This is especially true in winter, when dry indoor heat can exacerbate your symptoms. Adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil might also stimulate your breathing.

Remember, the water used in humidifiers needs to be changed daily to stop mold and other fungi from growing. For the same effect without a humidifier, take a long shower or linger in a steamy bathroom.

Salt water

Gargling with salt water may help prevent upper respiratory infections. It may also decrease the severity of cold symptoms. For example, it may ease sore throat pain and nasal congestion.

Gargling with salt water reduces and loosens mucus, which contains bacteria and allergens. To try this remedy at home, dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in a full glass of water. Swish it around your mouth and throat. Then spit it out.

Warm baths

Sometimes you can reduce a child’s fever by giving them a warm sponge bath. Warm baths can also reduce cold and flu symptoms in adults. Adding Epsom salt and baking soda to the water can reduce body aches. Adding a few drops of essential oil, such as tea tree, juniper, rosemary, thyme, orange, lavender, or eucalyptus, may also have a soothing effect.

When to see a doctor

A cold or flu virus can last for up to 2 weeks, with symptoms usually at their worst for about 2 or 3 days.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , people should see a doctor if their cold or flu symptoms last longer than 10 days with no signs of improvement.

If people have any unusual symptoms or their symptoms are very severe, they should contact their doctor.

People who may have a higher risk of complications from the flu should contact their doctor when they initially have flu symptoms, as they may need antiviral treatment.

These people include young children and those who are:

  • pregnant
  • aged 65 years or older
  • at risk due to other medical conditions

If an infant less than 3 months of age has a fever, a parent or caregiver should contact a doctor straight away.

Bottom Line

People may find that the above home remedies help relieve symptoms of a cold and make it pass more quickly.

Other ways to treat symptoms and recover from a cold or the flu include:

  • resting
  • getting plenty of sleep
  • staying warm
  • drinking plenty of water and other clear fluids
  • taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, to lessen aches or pain
  • using a humidifier

People who notice that their symptoms are not improving after 10 days or have any unusual or severe symptoms should see their doctor.

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