It's no wonder these kinds of treatments are popular -- we still have no cure for colds or the flu. While some conventional meds can prevent the flu or shorten how long it lasts, others ease symptoms for a little while. Many natural remedies can give you short-term relief as well, and a few may help you get better. See which ones show the most promise.
This herbal supplement may boost your immune system and help fight infections. But it’s unclear whether that helps you fight off colds. Most evidence shows echinacea doesn’t help prevent a cold, but some research found it shortens symptoms by a day or two. Other studies say it has no effect. To try it, take it when you start to feel bad and continue for 7 to 10 days.
Some studies show it helps fight viruses, like the cold. They say the mineral stops certain proteins from forming before cold viruses can use them to reproduce. While zinc doesn’t appear to prevent colds, it may help shorten their length and lessen the severity if you take it within 24 hours of the first symptoms. The FDA says not to use zinc nasal products for colds -- some people say they had a permanent loss of smell.
Its cold-fighting powers remain uncertain. Some research suggests it can cut cold symptoms short by about a day. One study showed that people under extreme physical stress or in cold weather were 50% less likely to get a cold if they took vitamin C. About 2,000 milligrams seems to work best, but this high dose may cause diarrhea and stomach upset.
Grandma was onto something. Chicken soup may help cold symptoms in more than one way. Inhaling the steam can ease a stuffy nose. Sipping spoonfuls of it can help replace the fluids you lose.
It offers some of the same perks as chicken soup. Breathing in the steam relieves congestion, while swallowing the fluid soothes your throat and keeps you hydrated. Black and green teas have the added bonus of being loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants, which may stave off colds as well.
This adult drink is an age-old nighttime cold remedy. Since you won't want to drink black tea and all that caffeine before bed, make a cup of hot herbal tea. Add a teaspoon of honey, a small shot of whiskey or bourbon, and a squeeze of lemon. This mixture may ease congestion, soothe your throat, and help you sleep. Limit yourself to one -- too much alcohol can keep you awake.
It's long been known as a germ-fighter. And one study showed garlic supplements may help prevent colds when taken daily. But more research needs to be done to figure out its real effects. It does have nutrients, and in food form it can also help spice up your meals when a stuffy nose makes everything taste bland.
Breathing in steam can break up congestion in your nose, offering relief when it’s stuffy or runny. You can get a heavy dose from a room humidifier -- or simply sit in the bathroom with the door shut and a hot shower running.
Dripping or spraying saltwater into your nose can thin out the gunk and help you get rid of it. That makes you less stuffy. You can try over-the-counter saline drops, or make your own. Mix 8 ounces of warm water with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Use a bulb syringe to squirt the liquid into one nostril while you hold the other one closed. Repeat 2-3 times and then do the other side.
You can use the same DIY saline solution in this gadget. It lets you flush out your nasal passages with a saltwater solution. The result is thinner mucus that drains more easily. Research suggests neti pots can ease symptoms like congestion, pressure, and facial pain, particularly in people with ongoing (chronic) sinus troubles.
Days of wiping and blowing your nose can leave the skin around your nostrils sore and irritated. A simple remedy is to dab a menthol-infused ointment under (but not in) your nose, or on your chest or throat. Menthol relieves the pain of raw skin. The vapors relieve a cough and open clogged passages, which eases your congestion. Don’t give it to children under 2.
This may help your sore throat. Gargle warm water with a teaspoon of salt four times daily to keep a scratchy throat moist.
You wear these strips of tape on the bridge of your nose to open the nasal passages. While they can't get rid of the stuffiness, they do create more space for airflow. That can help relieve nighttime congestion.
Let Your Fever Work
It's the original natural remedy. The rise in temperature fights colds and the flu by making your body too hot for germs to live. But if it makes you uncomfortable, it’s fine to take something to treat it. Drink plenty of liquids, too. Call your doctor right away if your temp is over 104 F, unless it comes down quickly with treatment. For an infant who’s 3 months or younger, call your doctor for any fever over 100.4. Children with a fever of less than 102 usually don’t require treatment unless they're uncomfortable.
Who has time to spend a day or two under the covers? But when you get plenty of rest, your body can direct more energy to fighting off germs. Staying warm is also important, so tuck yourself in and give your immune cells a leg up.
American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology: "Rhinosinusitis: Saline Sinus Rinse Recipe."
Eccles, R. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, September 1990.
Fruits & Veggies More Matters: "Vegetable of the Month: Garlic."
Joslin, P. Advances in Therapy, July/August 2001.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Echinacea," "In the News: Zinc and the Common Cold."
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
Oregon State University, The Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: "Vitamin C."
Rennard, B. Chest, October 2000.
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