The common cold, or viral upper respiratory tract infection, is one of the most common illnesses—with most people experiencing two or more per year.
While there is no known cure for the common cold, and no prescription medication that will make it go away faster, there are plenty of treatments that can help reduce the congestion, cough, and other uncomfortable symptoms you experience.
To get rid of a cold, you can try things like vitamins C, D, and zinc as well as staying hydrated and getting ample amounts of rest.
In this article, I’ll talk about how to get rid of a cold. I’ll also outline some strategies to prevent future colds. Finally, I’ll discuss when you should consider seeing a health care provider.
Vitamins C, D, and Zinc
Zinc and Vitamin C are often advertised as key cold fighters, but research on this has had mixed results, and no high-quality study has proven any vitamin will make cold symptoms go away faster.
Despite these findings, taking regular Vitamin C, D, and Zinc supplements does benefit the body and help maintain overall wellness, including immune health.
Just don’t expect them to fully prevent or cure a cold.
You have probably heard the saying “drink plenty of fluids” plenty of times, and for good reason. Drinking lots of water can help loosen the mucus in your nasal cavity and relieve thick nasal congestion.
In addition to water, juice and electrolyte-containing fluids will help you replace the fluids and electrolytes you’ve lost, and stop you from becoming dehydrated.
A study in 2019 looked at the effect of beetroot juice for treating the common cold. 76 students participated in the study and were randomly assigned to drinking one dose of beetroot juice daily for seven days during finals week.
The conclusion of the study was that during times of psychological stress, beetroot juice protects a person against cold symptoms, particularly for people with asthma.
Although further research is needed, probiotics may be beneficial in helping prevent colds. Probiotics are a type of good bacteria taken as a supplement or in yogurt to help strengthen the microbiome.
A 2015 analysis of research indicates a possible link to probiotics helping prevent upper respiratory tract infections, like the common cold. People with medical conditions should consult with their medical provider before starting to take probiotics. There may be mild side effects such as increased gas or bloating when starting a probiotic.
Echinacea is a popular herbal treatment for the common cold.
A systematic review of studies showed that the plant may lower the risk of developing colds by more than 58% and shorten the duration of colds by 1.4 days, however research is inconclusive. Despite the lack of conclusive research, echinacea has minimal adverse effects on health, and is safe to incorporate into your wellness routine.
Reclining with a warm wet washcloth over your eyes and nose can help warm the nasal passages and loosen built-up mucus.
This can relieve sinus pressure.
Rest and sleep
Your body needs sleep to heal and help your immune system recover. Do your best to get as much rest and sleep as you need while you are sick with a cold.
Dry air can cause further irritation to the nose and throat.
Using a humidifier or cool mist vaporizer in your bedroom will help add moisture back into the air while you sleep.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications
There are many over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can significantly alleviate cold symptoms.
- Pain relievers: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) help reduce fever and relieve muscle aches and headaches.
- Cough suppressants: Medications like dextromethorphan (Robitussin) can reduce coughing.
- Decongestants: Drugs like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) are recommended to reduce stuffiness. These are not recommended while you are pregnant or if you have high blood pressure.
- Antihistamines: Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin) and other antihistamines can help reduce sneezing and runny nose.
- Expectorants: Guaifenesin (Mucinex, Delsym) and other expectorants help to thin and loosen mucus.
- Honey: In some studies, a teaspoon of honey has been shown to be as effective as most over-the-counter cough medications. Never administer honey to an infant under 1 year old.
Salt Water Gargle
Gargling water containing salt for sore throat relief works by pulling fluids from the tissues in your throat.
It’s recommended to add ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt to an 8-ounce glass of warm water.
Using a neti pot or commercial saline sinus rinse kit can help clear congested nasal passages and sinuses while also helping relieve dryness.
Just make sure to only use prepared sterile saline solution, distilled water, or water that has been brought to a boil, then cooled. Never use water directly from the tap, which can contain a harmful amoeba.
There are also many other natural remedies recommended to treat cold symptoms—from eating a bowl of hot chicken soup to trying a new sleeping position.
Though their effectiveness is unproven, most of these remedies will do no harm, and could be worth trying.
Preventing the Common Cold
While no vaccinations currently exist, there are ways to reduce your chances of catching a cold.
- Clean your hands often and thoroughly: Use either soap and water for 20 seconds per wash, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your face: Also, avoid putting your fingers in your mouth.
- Clean shared spaces and items: Use disinfectant, especially on countertops, toys, phones, computer keyboards, TV remotes, and other items that are touched by multiple people often.
- Use tissues when sneezing or coughing: Immediately wash your hands after throwing them out. If tissues aren’t available, sneeze or cough into the bend of your elbow.
- Don’t share glasses or eating utensils: This is especially important if someone is already sick.
- Eat well, stay well hydrated, and get enough exercise: These will help keep your immune system strong.
- Stay home when you’re sick: You’ll avoid giving others your cold. When you’re out, avoid close contact with anyone else who has a cold.
Lastly, getting enough sleep can also help you keep your immune system healthy enough to fend off colds.Try to get 8 or more hours of quality sleep every night.
When To See a Healthcare Provider
While the common cold can knock you off your feet, the treatments and remedies shared in this article should help relieve your symptoms and fight off the cold.
For most people, symptoms will resolve within 1-2 weeks all on their own. However, there can be signs that suggest that you should see a doctor.
If you are experiencing any of the following, see your doctor.
- Feeling unwell despite medication.
- You have a high-grade fever (greater than 101.3° F (38.5°C)).
- You have a fever lasting more than 2 days, or despite taking fever-reducing medications.
- You’re unable to hold down liquids.
- You feel lightheaded.
- Your cold symptoms persist after more than 10 days, or you have a worsening of symptoms after having some improvement.
- Wheezing or shortness of breath.
- Severe headache, sinus pain or ear pain.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
5 tips: Natural products for the flu and cold: What does the science say?(2022.)
Beetroot juice supplementation for the prevention of cold symptoms associated with stress: A proof-of-concept study. (2019.)
Common Cold. (2021).
Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others. (2020).
Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. (2014).
Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis. (2007).
How to treat the common cold at home. (2021).
Self-Care for Common Colds: The Pivotal Role of Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc, and Echinacea. (2018).