8 Tips to Treat Colds and Flu the 'Natural' Way

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on September 05, 2023
3 min read

When infected by a cough, cold or the flu, our airways trigger the cells of the immune system to help fight inflammation caused by symptoms. By reducing inflammation in the cells of our airways, the symptoms of sore throat and cough are relieved. With no cure in sight, over-the-counter treatments can at best bring symptom relief or shorten the duration of those symptoms. Or you can take the natural approach. WebMD explores some home remedies that may help you feel better along the way.

It's important to blow your nose regularly when you have a cold rather than sniffling mucus back into your head. But when you blow hard, pressure can cause an earache. The best way to blow your nose: Press a finger over one nostril while you blow gently to clear the other. Wash your hands after blowing your nose.

Resting when you first come down with a cold or the flu helps your body direct its energy toward the immune battle. This battle taxes the body. So give it a little help by lying down under a blanket.

Gargling can moisten a sore throat and reduce inflammation. Try a teaspoon of salt dissolved in warm water, four times daily. To reduce the tickle in your throat, try an astringent gargle -- such as tea that contains tannin -- to tighten the membranes. Or, steep one tablespoon of lemon juice in two cups of hot water and mix in one teaspoon of honey. Let the mixture cool to room temperature before gargling. Honey should never be given to children under age 1.

Warm liquids help relieve nasal congestion, help prevent dehydration, and some tea leaves, like chamomile, help soothe the uncomfortably inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat.  You could also add some honey which soothes the airways and has both antiviral and antibacterial properties. 

Look for lozenges that contain Echinacea or elderberry extract, zinc, and vitamin C.  Aloe helps soothe and reduce irritation of the nose and throat. For treating colds, mint teas are often used; mint oils and peppermint oil-mostly made of menthol- can be used as rubs. Hanging eucalyptus to showers helps release its oils to reduce inflammation in the airways. Some over the counter lozenges also contain very low doses of aspirin which, when applied to inflamed tissues caused by an upper respiratory infection, can help soothe a sore throat.

Steamy showers moisturize your nasal passages and relax you. If you're dizzy from the flu, run a steamy shower while you sit on a chair nearby and take a sponge bath.

Either temperature may help you feel more comfortable. You can buy reusable hot or cold packs at a drugstore. Or make your own. Take a damp washcloth and heat it for 20 seconds at a time in a microwave (test the temperature first to make sure it's not too hot). Or take a small bag of frozen peas to use as a cold pack.

This will help with the drainage of nasal passages. If the angle is too awkward, try placing the pillows between the mattress and the box springs to create a more gradual slope.

There's no point adding stress to your already stressed-out upper respiratory system, and that's what the change in air pressure will do. Flying with cold or flu congestion can hurt your eardrums as a result of pressure changes during takeoff and landing. If you must fly, ask your doctor about using adecongestant and carry a nasal spray with you to use just before takeoff and landing. Chewing gum and swallowing frequently can also help relieve pressure.

Remember, serious conditions can masquerade as the common cold and a mild infection can evolve into something more serious. If you have severe symptoms or are feeling sicker with each passing day or must travel, see a doctor.