Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on August 07, 2019

Use Gadgets to Help You Breathe

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Run a humidifier or vaporizer all night to release moisture into the air. Steam can loosen congestion and keep your head from drying out. Besides helping you breathe easier, moist air can soothe irritated tissues in your nose and ease sore throat pain as well. Be sure to clean and disinfect your humidifier regularly to get rid of germs.

Shower Before Bed

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When you have a cold, get the benefits of steam from a hot shower to make it easier to breathe. You can also try a few other ideas: Run the shower and sit in the steamy bathroom with the door shut. Bend over a sink filled with running hot water. Or put a warm compress over your sinuses.

Choose Wisely

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Some cold medicines treat many problems at once, like congestion, runny nose, cough, fever, and aches. Check the ingredients carefully, and choose the medicine that most closely matches your symptoms. Decongestants can keep you awake. Antihistamines, on the other hand, might make you drowsy. If your child is under 4, don’t give them cold medicine.

Try a Decongestant Spray

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When you can’t get any air in your nose, this type of nasal spray can help open up your nasal passages and ease the stuffiness. But beware -- using one for more than 3 days in a row can end up making things worse.

Soothe a Sore Throat

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For quick relief, gargle with warm salt water before you go to bed. You can also try over-the-counter lozenges, throat sprays, and pain relievers. Let your doctor know if you have a severe sore throat and a fever for more than 2 days -- especially if you don’t have typical cold symptoms like congestion and sneezing. It could be due to a strep infection.

Use Nasal Strips

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Some people try these sticky strips to ease congestion while they sleep. They go across the bridge of your nose to help stretch and open the nasal passages. A strip won’t break up mucus, but it may allow more space for some airflow.

Make a Saline Rinse

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You can use this over and over to loosen mucus. To make the solution, mix 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces of warm distilled water. (Do not use tap water because it can be dangerous.) Pour it into in a spray bottle -- the kind that can go into your nose. You can also use the mix with a neti pot to flush out your sinuses.

Ease a Cough With Salve

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Rub a menthol salve on your chest and throat to soothe the cough that often comes with a cold. Don’t eat it or put it inside your nose. And never use it on children under 2.

Raise the Head of Your Bed

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You may have heard that your sinuses will drain more easily if you prop up your head on many pillows. Doctors say this isn’t a good idea, because it bends your neck in a way that can make it harder to breathe. So raise the head of the bed instead. You can put large books under the legs of your headboard and secure them. This creates a gentler, more natural incline.

Sleep on Schedule

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A cold can make it hard to stick with a set bedtime. But it’s best to wake up and head to bed at the same times as usual. Sticking to a schedule not only makes it easier to fall asleep -- it can help fight off the next cold. One study suggests that people who don’t get enough Zzz's are three times more likely to catch a cold than those who get 8 or more hours of shut-eye a night.

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Show Sources


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  4. MIXA / Getty Images
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  6. Steve Pomberg / WebMD
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  8. Steve Pomberg / WebMD
  9. Brand New Images / Stone
  10. Image Source / Getty


American Academy of Pediatrics: "Cough and Cold Medicine - Not for Children."

Brown University Health Education: "Sinusitis."

DailyMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Vaporizing Chest Rub." "Cold and Flu."

Go Ask Alice, Columbia University: "Nose Won't Stop Running."

Group Health Cooperative: Treating Colds and Flu." "Coping with Nasal Congestion."

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Oct. 30, 2009.

Seattle Children's: "Coughs and Colds: Medicines or Home Remedies?"

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Nasal congestion - Treatment."

University of Michigan Health System: "Saline Nasal Sprays & Irrigation."