Are you sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, and fighting through the symptoms to stay awake and put two thoughts together? It’s that time of year again when colds descend, as they have in my house. I don’t mind taking a few days of decongestants or medications for relief, but when the colds stretch on and on, I turn to home remedies to avoid overmedicating. They are cheaper than buying over the counter meds, and are great if you have other health concerns that limit the meds you can take, like pregnancy.
8 home remedies for a cold that work
These home remedies generally work to relieve symptoms of a cold. I am not a medical professional and this does not constitute medical advice. I’m sharing home remedies that have worked for me and my family. With the exception of hydrating, most home remedies won’t necessarily reduce the length of your illness but will keep you comfortable and functional while it runs its course. Repeat as needed!
One of the most important things to remember when sick is to keep hydrated. Water, juice, clear broths, and herbal teas will help your body’s immune system continue to do its work, and will make you a lot more comfortable as it clears up congestion and hydrates your scratchy throat. Doctors recommend that you avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they are more likely to dehydrate you.
While you’re hydrating, add honey to your tea, or make a honey and lemon tea. Not only does it taste good, but a 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that a few teaspoons of honey taken at bedtime actually reduced cough frequency and severity in children, and improved sleep quality.
3. Neti pot or saline sprays.
Neti pots are basically a device for gently streaming a saline (or very mild saltwater) solution through your nostrils. Like most of these other remedies, a neti pot will not necessarily shorten your cold, but can help relieve symptoms by reducing swelling in the mucus membranes of your nose and (when used frequently/regularly during a cold) clear out excessive mucus that could cause infection if trapped in your sinus cavity. Neti pots can be found at most drug stores, or you could substitute a bulb syringe (like the kind that you use to suction out a baby’s nose). A solution of 1/4 tsp sea salt (or other non-iodized salt — avoid kitchen salt!) to 8 oz. of water is gentle yet effective. However, you should only irrigate with purified/distilled water, either purchased from a store or boiled and allowed to cool, to avoid introducing bacteria.
4. Salt water gargle.
Temporarily relieves a sore, scratchy throat and loosens mucus. Mix 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of salt in 8 oz. of warm water. Gargle in the back of your throat and spit out. If you can tolerate warmer water, it will temporarily relieve some discomfort in your tonsils.
5. Hot packs.
Gentle heat applied to the sinuses (from the outside of the face) can thin mucus secretions, helping loosen congestion. A warm washcloth or a rice bag heated in the microwave, and laid over your nose and sinuses for a few minutes should do the trick.
Not only do cold viruses thrive in dry air, but dry conditions exacerbate symptoms. Using a cool mist humidifier, or hanging out in a shower or steamy bathroom, hydrates your mucus membranes — loosening congestion and soothing dry throats. Remember to change the water in a humidifier every day or two to avoid mold from growing and being spread through the air.
Not that you have the time… but every minute that you’re letting your body rest is a minute that it can direct energy to fighting the good fight.
8. Elevate your head at night.
This prevents mucus from both pooling in your sinuses and dripping down to trigger coughing. Better breathing + less coughing = less throat irritation + better sleep (see No. 7).
The verdict on Vitamin C and Zinc
Vitamin C. According to research compiled and reviewed by Healthline, Vitamin C “is considered ‘possibly effective’ for treating the common cold, but is ineffective for preventing it.” While some studies showed it may help severity and duration, other studies showed no effect. The good news is that it shouldn’t hurt, and it’s not generally dangerous in large doses. Sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, bell peppers, and broccoli, as well as supplements and many multivitamins.
Zinc. The Mayo Clinic reports the evidence for zinc helping reduce the severity of a cold is inconsistent at best. It also reports that any nasal sprays with zinc may actually cause permanent damage to your sense of smell. Ingested, it probably won’t hurt you but be careful about using it any other way!
What home remedies do you swear by for a cold?