10 Home Remedies for Colds


Have a cold? Check out these easy home remedies to start feeling better faster.

Headache. Stuffy nose. Cough. Fever. Itchy eyes. Sore throat. Muscle aches. If you're like most people, you know the symptoms of the common cold all too well. Although Americans spend billions of dollars annually on doctor visits and cold remedies (everything from tissues and vitamin C to over-the-counter decongestants and herbal teas), there is no cure for the common cold. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make your recovery easier. In this article we'll discuss all aspects of the cold, including home remedies, when you should call a doctor, and how to avoid passing on your cold to innocent bystanders. To begin, we will discuss the origins and causes of the common cold.

A cold is an upper respiratory infection caused by any one of hundreds of different viruses. Unfortunately, scientists haven't figured out how to wipe out these viruses. The body has to rely on its own natural defenses.During a cold, virus particles penetrate the mucous layer of the nose and throat and attach themselves to cells there. The viruses punch holes in the cell membranes, allowing viral genetic material to enter the cells.

Within a short time, the virus takes over and forces the cells to produce thousands of new virus particles.In response to this viral invasion, the body marshals its defenses: The nose and throat release chemicals that spark the immune system; injured cells produce chemicals called prostaglandins, which trigger inflammation and attract infection-fighting white blood cells; tiny blood vessels stretch, opening up space to allow blood fluid (plasma) and specialized white cells to enter the infected area; the body temperature rises, enhancing the immune response; and histamine is released, increasing the production of nasal mucus in an effort to trap viral particles and remove them from the body.As the battle against the cold virus rages on, the body counterattacks with its heavy artillery: specialized white blood cells called monocytes and lymphocytes; interferon, often called the "body's own antiviral drug"; and 20 or more proteins that circulate in the blood plasma and coat the viruses and infected cells, making it easier for the white blood cells to identify and destroy them.The symptoms you experience as a cold are actually the body's natural immune response. In fact, by the time you feel like you're coming down with a cold, you've likely already been infected for a day and a half.

Once you are infected, however, you can try to ease some of the aches and pains. In the next section, we will review some home remedies for relieving cold symptoms.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

1
Drink Fluids
Fluids help thin the mucus, thus keeping it flowing freely and making it easier for the body to expel.
Fluids help thin the mucus, thus keeping it flowing freely and making it easier for the body to expel.
Digital Vision/Getty Images

Many people believe the old adage, "Do nothing and your cold will last seven days. Do everything and it will last a week." (Actually, it's not uncommon for a cold to last a couple of weeks.) And, basically, it's true. But the following simple home remedies may help you feel more comfortable and help your body heal itself as quickly as possible, such as drinking plenty of fluids.

Fluids may help thin the mucus, thus keeping it flowing freely and making it easier for the body to expel, along with the viral particles trapped within it. Water and other liquids also combat dehydration. So drink at least eight ounces of fluid every two hours.

2
Rest
Getting extra rest will help your body recover faster.
Getting extra rest will help your body recover faster.
James Darrell/Photodisc/Getty Images

Doctors disagree about whether or not you should take a day or two off from work when you come down with a cold. However, they do agree that extra rest helps. Staying away from work may be a good idea from a prevention standpoint, too; your coworkers will probably appreciate your not spreading your cold virus around the office. If you do decide to stay home, forego those chores and take it easy, read a good book, watch television, take naps.

You should probably also skip your normal exercise routine when you've got a cold, at least during the days when you're feeling the worst. Again, let your body be your guide. If you're feeling miserable, the best advice is probably to just stay in bed.

And while cold air doesn't cause colds, you're likely to feel more comfortable if you stay indoors and keep covered, especially if you have a fever. There's no sense in stressing your body any further.

3
Chicken Soup
Chicken soup remedies aren't just myths.
Chicken soup remedies aren't just myths.
John A. Rizzo/Getty Images

Science actually backs up what your mom knew all along -- chicken soup does help a cold. It's one of the most beneficial hot fluids you can consume when you have a cold. Scientists believe it's the fumes in the soup that release the mucus in your nose and help your body better fight against its viral invaders. Chicken soup also contains cysteines, which are good at thinning mucus. And the soup provides easily absorbed nutrients.

4
Honey
Make your own cough syrup with honey.
Make your own cough syrup with honey.
Gary S. Chapman/Getty Images

Make your own cough syrup by mixing together 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar. Pour the mixture into a jar or bottle and seal tightly. Shake well before using. Take 1 tablespoon every four hours.

However, stay away from honey in "hot toddies." While a hot alcoholic beverage might sound good when you're feeling achy and stuffy, you're better off abstaining from booze, which increases mucous-membrane congestion and is dehydrating.

5
Salt
Salt isn't just for the table.
Salt isn't just for the table.
Inti St. Clair/Photodisc/Getty Images

The inflammation and swelling in the nose during a cold is caused by molecules called cytokines, or lymphokines, which are made by the body as it fights the infection. Research has shown that washing away these molecules can reduce swelling. You can make your own saline drops or spray by adding 1/4 teaspoon salt to 8 ounces water. Fill a clean nasal-spray bottle or dropper with the salt water and spray or drop into each nostril three or four times. Repeat five to six times daily.

You can also make a saltwater gargle for your sore throat with the same ratio of salt to water. Salt is an astringent and helps relieve a painful throat.

6
Tea
Hot tea loosens up your nasal passages and can make your stuffy nose feel better.
Hot tea loosens up your nasal passages and can make your stuffy nose feel better.
©iStockphoto.com/Carmen Martínez Banús

A cup of hot tea with honey does the same trick as chicken soup; it loosens up your nasal passages and makes that stuffy nose feel better. Folk healers have known this secret for centuries. They often suggest drinking tea with spices and herbs that contain aromatic oils with antiviral properties. Try tea with elder, ginger, yarrow, mint, thyme, horsemint, bee balm, lemon balm, catnip, garlic, onions or mustard.

7
Peppers
Spicy foods can clear up mucus.
Spicy foods can clear up mucus.
©iStockphoto.com/Floortje

Hot and spicy foods are notorious for making your nose run and your eyes water. The hot stuff in peppers is called capsaicin and is pharmacologically similar to guaifenesin, an expectorant found in some over-the-counter cough syrups. This similarity leads some experts to believe that eating hot foods can clear up mucus and ease that stuffy nose.

8
Vaporize and Moisturize
Ease your nostrils with a humidifier.
Ease your nostrils with a humidifier.
©iStockphoto.com/Alexander Den

The steam from a vaporizer can loosen mucus, especially if the mucus has become thick. (You can get a similar effect by draping a towel over your head and bending over a pot of boiled water; just be careful not to burn yourself.)

A humidifier will add moisture to your immediate environment, which may make you feel more comfortable and will keep your nasal tissues moist. That's helpful because dry nasal membranes provide poor protection against viral invasion.

Dry nasal passages are prime breeding grounds for the cold virus. Although doctors typically recommend saline nose drops during the winter to keep nasal passages moist, a recent study compared saline drops to sesame oil. The people who used sesame oil had an 80 percent improvement in their nasal dryness while the people who used traditional saline drops had a 30 percent improvement. While it may not be a good idea to shoot sesame oil up your nose (it could get into the lungs), try rubbing a drop around the inside of your nostrils.

9
Vitamin C
Vitamin C can help boost your immune system.
Vitamin C can help boost your immune system.
TS Photography/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Vitamin C won't prevent a cold, but it may help once you have a cold. Although it remains a controversial idea, some research suggests that vitamin C can help boost the immune system and reduce the length and severity of symptoms. But to reap the benefits, you've got to take a lot of "C." The RDA for men and women age 15 and older is 60 mg, but studies show that you'd need to take upward of 1,000 mg to 3,000 mg to get the cold-symptom-sparing rewards of vitamin C. For the short term, experts believe that wouldn't be harmful, but taking too much vitamin C for too long can cause severe diarrhea. Before loading up on vitamin C, check with your doctor.

10
Zinc
The most effective zinc lozenges are those that contain 15 to 25 mg of zinc gluconate or zinc gluconate-glycine per lozenge.
The most effective zinc lozenges are those that contain 15 to 25 mg of zinc gluconate or zinc gluconate-glycine per lozenge.
©iStockphoto.com/Daniel Tero

Studies have found that zinc may help immune cells fight a cold and may ease cold symptoms. The most effective zinc lozenges are those that contain 15 to 25 mg of zinc gluconate or zinc gluconate-glycine per lozenge. You can get the most out of your zinc lozenges if you start using them at the first sign of a cold and continue taking them for several days.

While colds are here to stay -- for now -- you don't have to be totally at their mercy. Thankfully, there are some safe home remedies like these to ease your symptoms once you're sick.

For more remedies and cold tips, see the links on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Timothy Gower is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in many publications, including Reader's Digest, Prevention, Men's Health, Better Homes and Gardens, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. The author of four books, Gower is also a contributing editor for Health magazine.

Alice Lesch Kelly is a health writer based in Boston. Her work has been published in magazines such as Shape, Fit Pregnancy, Woman's Day, Reader's Digest, Eating Well, and Health. She is the co-author of three books on women's health.

Linnea Lundgren has more than 12 years experience researching, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines. She is the author of four books, including Living Well With Allergies.

Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers and Southern Living magazines. Formerly assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine, her professional passion is learning and writing about health.

ABOUT THE CONSULTANTS:

Ivan Oransky, M.D., is the deputy editor of The Scientist. He is author or co-author of four books, including The Common Symptom Answer Guide, and has written for publications including the Boston Globe, The Lancet, and USA Today. He holds appointments as a clinical assistant professor of medicine and as adjunct professor of journalism at New York University.

David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.