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Remedies for a Cold

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 20, 2020

Sneezing, coughing, and constantly blowing your nose. If you’ve ever caught a cold, these symptoms may sound familiar. There are more than 200 known viruses that can infect your nose and throat. The most common is Rhinovirus, which causes 10% to 40% of colds.

The cold season typically starts in September and lasts through May. The average adult catches two to four colds a year, while children may experience as many as eight infections in one season. 

Colds are highly contagious and are spread through droplets of fluid that contain the virus. People can pick up the virus if they’re around an infected person or if the person who is infected has touched a common surface with unwashed hands.

Symptoms usually start to appear within one to three days after you’ve been exposed. When you get sick, you may experience one or all of the following:

It can take up to two weeks for cold symptoms to disappear. More vulnerable populations—like children, older adults, and those who are immunocompromised (weakened immune systems due to illness or other conditions)—may be sick for weeks or even months. 

Remedies for the Common Cold

The cold is a virus, and there isn’t one medication or treatment that can cure it. However, certain remedies may ease symptoms and help you heal faster: 

Stay Hydrated

Drink tea, water, bone broth, and warm water with lemon to keep your body hydrated and prevent excess congestion. 

Take Time to Rest

Do you like to run around and accomplish many things in a day? If you have a cold, stop! Your body needs to rest. Read a book, watch movies, or close your eyes and drift into dreamland. 

Manage a Scratchy Throat

Chewing on ice chips, sucking on throat lozenges or sprays, and eating a piece of hard candy may soothe a scratchy throat.

A salt-water gargle helps too. Combine 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt with an 8-ounce glass of warm water, gargle, then spit. Repeat. 

Relieve a Stuffy Nose

Saline nasal rinses, sprays, and nasal drops can loosen mucus and make it easier to breathe. 

Sip Some Soup

The phrase “chicken soup for the soul” may be true! Drinking warm liquids, like soup, tea, or warm juice, increases mucus flow in the body, reducing congestion.  

Turn on the Humidifier

Vaporizers and humidifiers add moisture into the surrounding air, helping relieve chest and sinus congestion. Change the water and clean the unit every day. 

Try An Over-the-Counter (OTC) Cold Medication

OTC cold medications can relieve a runny nose, ease congestion, and soothe a scratchy throat. However, some medicines contain multiple ingredients, so it’s important to read the labels to make sure you aren’t taking too much. 

Cold Remedies for Children

The seven remedies in the previous section are good for people of any age to follow. However, children are still growing, and some cold treatments require careful consideration:

Over The Counter (OTC) Pain Relievers

Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help reduce common symptoms like headaches, muscle pain, and fever. Read the label on the bottle or package to determine the recommended amount for your child’s age and weight. 

Avoid giving aspirin to children or teenagers. It’s linked to a rare condition called Reye s Syndrome that causes brain and liver damage and can lead to death. 

OTC Antihistamines or Decongestants

Medical experts suggest only giving OTC cold medication to children age six and older. Some decongestants can cause irregular heartbeat, irritability, and even hallucinations in young children, toddlers, and infants. 

When to See a Doctor

Each year, more people visit the doctor for the common cold than any other illness. Medical experts suggest treating your symptoms at home first. However, call your doctor if you start to experience more severe symptoms, including: 

  • Trouble breathing
  • Unexplained chest or abdominal pain that appears suddenly
  • Dizziness 
  • Sudden onset of vomiting that doesn’t go away 
  • Symptoms that last longer than seven days 

Children’s immune systems are not fully developed, making them more susceptible to colds and other infections. It’s important to monitor their symptoms closely and call the doctor if your child: 

  • Develops a cold and is less than 3 months old
  • Has a “barking” or severe cough
  • Complains of ear pain 
  • Struggles to breathe or breathes quickly
  • Has symptoms that last longer than 3 weeks 
  • Doesn’t want to eat and seems listless or extremely tired
  • Has trouble urinating

It’s important to take care of your health when you’re sick. Doing too much too soon can prevent your body from healing and may even make a cold last longer. Rest, drink plenty of fluids, and remember to wash your hands to prevent spreading the virus to others. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Lung Association: “Facts About the Common Cold.” 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Common Colds: Protect Yourself.”

KidsHealth® From Nemours: “Colds.” 

Mayo Clinic: “Cold remedies: What works, what doesn’t, what can’t hurt.” 

MedlinePlus: “How to treat the common cold.” 

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