Is There a Natural Way to Treat the Flu?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on October 30, 2021

Looking for a natural flu treatment? Some remedies can ease your symptoms, but there’s no natural cure. Nor is there a natural way to prevent flu. The only way to hold it off -- or at least significantly lower the risk -- is immunization with a flu vaccine and frequent handwashing.

There are natural steps you can take to help yourself or someone you’re taking care of feel less sick when the flu comes on.

Symptoms Have a Job to Do

Feeling bad isn’t any fun, but it means your healing process is at work to fight the flu. A fever kills the virus by making your body hotter than normal. That also helps germ-killing proteins in your blood get where they need to be more quickly. So if you run a slight fever for a day or two, you could get well faster.

Coughing is another symptom with purpose. It helps clear the thick mucus in your airways that carry germs to your lungs and the rest of your body.

Should I Treat Congestion?

That stuffy nose is best treated mildly or not at all. A decongestant slows the flow to the blood vessels in your nose and throat. But often you want an increased blood flow because it warms the infected area and helps all that gunk clear the germs from your body.

One natural remedy is to drink more water. It makes mucus thinner and easier to get rid of when you cough or blow. Your sinuses drain better when you’re not all dried out, and if the stuff in them is moving, it’s less likely to get infected.

Do Salt Water Sprays or Rinses Help?

Yes. A rinse can help break up congestion and remove bacteria and parts of the virus from your nose. You can buy an over-the-counter saline spray or use this recipe:

Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces of sterile, distilled, or previously boiled water. Lean over the bathroom sink. Gently squirt the solution in your nostril using a bulb syringe. Hold the other side of your nose closed with your finger. Let the mix drain out. Repeat two to three times, and then do the same with the other side.

Gargle for a Sore Throat

It can moisten a flaming throat and bring short-term relief. Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in warm water and gargle with this mix four times a day.

You can also try a thick mix made with honey, a popular folk treatment. Steep 1 tablespoon of raspberry leaves or lemon juice in 2 cups of hot water; mix with 1 teaspoon of honey. Let the liquid cool to room temperature before you gargle.

Soothe a Dry Cough

Hot drinks also open your chest and head. Plus they count toward all that liquid you’re supposed to be drinking every day.

Make a cup of hot herbal tea and add a teaspoon of honey if you like it sweet.

Doctors do not recommend adding whiskey or bourbon to a hot drink; alcohol is dehydrating and inflammatory.

What About Supplements?

Many dietary supplements get credit for easing flu symptoms, but there’s no proof they work. Talk to your doctor before you try any.

Some natural herbal products can cause allergic reactions. Others may not work well with prescription medications you're taking. A few can even cause liver damage, so be careful.

If you aren’t sure about the claims on a product label, call your doctor. They can tell you what’s in it and if you should take it.

What Should I Do When Flu Symptoms Hit?

Even though there's no natural cure for flu, you can manage symptoms with common sense. Go ahead and pamper yourself a bit while you’re at it.

Call the doctor. Do it within 48 hours after symptoms start. Ask about antiviral drugs. They help ease symptoms and may shorten your illness if you take them early enough. Let them know if you have a chronic condition like heart disease, diabetes, COPD, asthma, or HIV. Check back in if your symptoms don’t get better after about 10 days.

Get lots of rest. Your body needs extra downtime to fight the viral infection. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of shuteye a night.

Drink plenty of fluids. You need lots of liquids when you have a fever.

Breathe hot air. Hang out in a steamy shower or cover your head with a towel and hold it over a sinkful of hot water to ease dry throats and nasal passages.

Don’t take antibiotics. They can't fight the flu virus.

Eat healthy. Good food keeps your immune system in the fight.

Don't smoke. You'll have a hard enough time breathing as it is.

Keep the flu to yourself. Stay away from family members, colleagues, and friends. You’re contagious 1 day before symptoms start and for 5-7 days after symptoms start.

Show Sources


American Lung Association: "Cold and Flu Guidelines: Myths and Facts."

Mayo Clinic: "Influenza (Flu)."

FDA: "The Flu."

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