There’s a reason why they call it the “common cold”—on average, adults experience 2-3 colds each year (and children have even more!).
The flu is also very common; an estimated 9-41 million people get sick with the flu every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Both the flu and the common cold are caused by viruses.
Influenza virus types A, V, and C cause the flu, while many viruses can cause a cold (with the most common type of virus to cause a cold being a rhinovirus).
Symptoms of the flu and cold can vary, but they most often include a fever, chills, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, muscle aches or body aches, headaches, and tiredness.
Though uncomfortable, most colds and flus can be treated at home and take just 7-10 days to resolve.
During that time, there are several home remedies that can help to ease your discomfort and soothe your symptoms.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Drinking plenty of fluids is important when you have a cold or flu and especially important if you have a fever, as it can help to prevent dehydration.
In addition to soothing a fever, drinking adequate fluids can help with other common cold and flu symptoms, such as a sore throat.
Types of fluids that are good to drink if you have a cold or flu include:
- Decaffeinated or non-caffeinated tea
- Sports drinks
It’s important to avoid drinking caffeinated drinks, like coffees, teas, and some types of sodas, as these can contribute to dehydration.
Fighting a viral infection when you have a cold or flu can make your body feel tired and achy.
To help your body combat the underlying infection, it’s important to give yourself as much rest as needed.
Staying home from work or school will also help you to prevent the spread of infection. But once you start to feel better, there’s no need to force rest or sleep.
Gargle With Salt Water
Dissolving one-half of a teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water several times a day may help relieve a sore or scratchy throat.
Gargling with honey and lemon may also help to soothe a sore throat.
When combined with nasal irrigation, one randomized study suggests that gargling with salt water may also help to shorten the duration of illness and reduce the transmission and duration of certain symptoms associated with the common cold, including a runny nose.
Use Saline Nasal Spray
Using a saline nasal spray can help to alleviate nasal congestion associated with the cold or flu and encourage virus particles and bacteria to flow from the nose.
Try Herbal Tea
Herbal, non-caffeinated teas can soothe several of the symptoms associated with the flu or common cold, especially a sore throat and nasal congestion.
Take a Steamy Shower
Taking a warm or hot shower will help to moisten and relax your nasal passages, relieving congestion and runny nose.
The steam from the shower can also soothe a sore throat and body aches.
Use a Humidifier
Increase Vitamin C Consumption
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin found in citrus and other fruits and vegetables.
Double Nobel laureate Linus Pauling was one of the first to espouse the benefits of vitamin C at preventing and treating colds and other diseases in the 1970s.
However, loading up on rich sources of vitamin C regularly, such as by consuming fruits and vegetables, can help to support your immune system and overall health in the long run.
Eat Chicken Soup
Drinking chicken soup and other clear broths and soups can help you stay hydrated and get important vitamins and minerals when you’re not feeling well.
One in-vitro study found that chicken soup may also help to slow the movement of neutrophils, infection-fighting white blood cells that work more effectively to heal the body when moving slowly.
Take OTC Medication
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin can help to lower a fever and soothe body aches, sore throat, and other symptoms.
Keep in mind that it may take between 30-45 minutes for the medication to start working and it’s important not to exceed the recommended dosage in a 24-hour period (these medications are also not recommended for children under the age of six).
Importantly, if you have a cold rather than a flu, aspirin is not recommended.
You should also read labels if you are taking any commercially prepared cold or flu products as they often contain these medications.
Use a Neti Pot
A neti pot and other products designed for nasal irrigation (including nasal irrigation kits) can help moisten your nasal passages and alleviate nasal congestion, sore throat, and a runny nose.
These products often use a saline or saltwater solution that is then squeezed or poured into one nostril while your head is tilted.
As you irrigate your passages with your head tilted, the solution will exit through the other nostril.
When using a neti pot or nasal irrigation kit, you should pour half of the solution through each nostril.
It’s also important to use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water and to follow the instructions included, including cleaning and drying your pot or device between uses.
Try Echinacea Tea
Echinacea is an herb that can be found in teas, lozenges, and other OTC supplements. Unfortunately, echinacea has not been proven to treat a cold or flu.
However, drinking echinacea tea may still provide some soothing relief if you have a sore throat.
Evidence suggests that a single nighttime dose of honey may help to reduce the severity of cough and improve sleep in children with the common cold.
In adults, drinking tea with honey or consuming lozenges with honey may also help to soothe a sore throat.
Take a Zinc Supplement
Though the evidence is inconsistent, findings from a meta-analysis suggest that orally administered zinc can reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms in adults.
Specifically, a 23mg zinc gluconate lozenge taken every two hours may help to reduce the duration and severity of the common cold in adults.
Importantly, oral zinc lozenges in children were not associated with as significant a benefit.
When To See a Medical Professional
Most colds and flus can be treated at home. But if you’re experiencing a fever of 103°F or higher, reach out to your healthcare provider or seek emergency care.
Additional symptoms that warrant more immediate medical attention are:
- A fever that does not improve after three days of rest and home care
- Severe headache
- Severe throat swelling
- Unusual skin rash
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Stiff neck (or pain when you bend your head forward)
- Mental confusion
- Persistent vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Pain when urinating
- Extreme fatigue
- Extreme irritability
- Muscle weakness
- Sensory changes
How K Health Can Help
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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 Colds: What Does the Science Say?
A pilot, open labelled, randomised controlled trial of hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling for the common cold. (2019.)
Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro. (2000.)
Common Cold. (2021.)
Disease Burden of Flu. (2022.)
How to treat the common cold at home. (2021.)
Is Rinsing Your Sinuses With Neti Pots Safe? (2021.)
Key Facts About Influenza.
Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidence. (2014.)
Vitamin C. (2020.)
Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. (2007.)