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Home remedies for cold and flu symptoms

By The Health News Team | February 2, 2023
Sick person sneezing

Cue the runny nose, cough and sore throat — cold and flu season is here. Despite your best efforts to protect yourself, such as getting your annual flu shot and COVID-19 booster, the sniffles can still strike.

Though uncomfortable, most colds and flus can be treated at home and typically resolve on their own within seven to 10 days. During that time, there are several home remedies and over-the-counter medications that can ease your discomfort and soothe your symptoms.

According to Dr. Angie Neison, a board-certified family medicine, lifestyle medicine and culinary medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, one of the best things you can do is avoid getting sick in the first place. In addition to washing your hands frequently, getting vaccinated and avoiding close contact with people who are sick, Dr. Neison recommends healthy lifestyle habits to stay well.

“Focusing on a plant-forward diet, exercise, proper sleep, and management of stress are key to preventing illness,” she says.

But if you do get sick, here are a few home remedies that may offer relief:

  1. Stay hydrated.

    It’s a piece of doctorly advice you’ve heard dozens of times: Drink plenty of fluids when you’re sick. Hydration is particularly important when you’re ill. It helps facilitate the immune system’s response to infection and assists the body in replenishing fluids lost due to a runny nose, vomiting or sweating. Drinking plenty of fluids may also help break up congestion, moisten the throat and ease a cough.

    Avoid sodas and coffee, which can be dehydrating, and instead reach for water, decaffeinated tea, low-sugar juices or clear broth. Ice chips are another simple way to stay hydrated and calm a scratchy throat.

  2. Combat stuffiness.

    When mucus builds up in your nasal passages, it causes congestion, inflammation and a general feeling of stuffiness. Sinus rinses, including irrigation and sprays, can be a great tool against stuffiness, Dr. Neison explains. They might not cure your congestion but can provide some short-term relief.

    According to Dr. Neison, nasal saline irrigation has been used for centuries to remedy symptoms of cold, flu and other conditions affecting the nasal passages. Using nasal spray or a neti pot with a saline solution can help thin the mucus and reduce swelling that can cause congestion.

  3. Ease a sore throat.

    A sore throat can make it difficult to eat, drink, sleep, talk and generally function. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to soothe it. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can relieve throat pain and reduce fever.

    A comforting cup of warm broth is one of Dr. Neison’s favorite sore throat remedies. “My go-to drink advice is sipping on warm veggie or chicken broth,” she says. “The salt in the broth helps soothe the sore throat and provides hydration.

    You can also try sipping warm tea with honey and lemon juice. Honey acts as a demulcent, meaning it calms down irritated tissues by coating them. The lemon can help loosen congestion and offers a boost of vitamin C. Gargling with saltwater is another great option to reduce pain and swelling and remove irritants, such as bacteria and viruses, from your throat.

  4. Control a cough.

    Honey is also great for suppressing a cough. Several studies show that honey can reduce airway inflammation in your lungs and help break up mucus that is making it hard for you to breathe. Honey should not be given to children younger than age 1, though, because of the risk of a rare type of food poisoning known as infant botulism.

    When it comes to over-the-counter medications, Dr. Neison recommends avoiding combined cold and cough preparations advertised as multi-symptom medications. “It's better to just keep things simple and focus on treating the worst symptom at that moment,” she says. “For cough, consider trying an over-the-counter antihistamine.”

While none of these are a magic remedy, they might offer some symptom relief and keep you from feeling miserable.

“Despite many advances in medicine, the common cold and flu are viruses we just can't entirely treat,” Dr. Neison says. “Improving symptoms and shortening the course of the illness with proper rest, food, hydration and over-the-counter medications is your best bet.”

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