There’s no cure for a common cold. But that doesn’t stop you from trying anything and everything to feel better. When you’ve downed the over-the-counter cough syrups and pain relievers, what else is there to do? What else can you do (other than be miserable)?
We at Eat This, Not That! Health asked medical experts for their go-to cures for the most common cold symptoms. Here’s their advice on what to try—and what they do themselves. (As always, talk to your own doctor before adding any new vitamin or supplement to your diet.) Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
One of the worst things about having a cold is congestion—because when you can’t breathe through your nose, it’s hard to sleep comfortably, and sleep is the best way to get better faster, along with drinking fluids. Here are some remedies to try to relive a stuffy nose.
This traditional hydrotherapy has been used for centuries as a way to fight nighttime nasal congestion. Shortly before bed, wet and freeze a pair of thin, cotton ankle socks. Before you do this treatment, make sure your feet and body are warm. Put the socks on straight from the freezer, then cover them with a thicker pair of woolen socks. Go straight to bed and cover up.
“This treatment pulls congestion from the head through some simple hydrotherapy and thermodynamics principles,” says Dr. Heather Tynan, ND. “First, there is a cooling, constricting effect, and then the opposite. The cold stimulus to the feet causes vasoconstriction there, which pushes blood to the vital organs. The body then proceeds to try to re-warm the feet, the vessels there dilate again, and the ultimate effect is a drawing of fluids farther from the head which helps relieve congestion.”
Chicken soup is legitimately good for colds. “Chicken soup contains certain chemicals that may turn down the level of inflammation in your nasal passages from a cold,” says Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, MD, FIDSA, Senior Scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. A study in the journal Chest looked at the movement of white blood cells called neutrophils when combined with soup. The cells exposed to chicken soup showed significantly less movement, which suggested anti-inflammatory properties. Chicken soup (especially the homemade kind) is packed with nutrients, feels good on a sore throat and is a great way to stay hydrated, too.
Peppermint and its main active ingredient, menthol, can help relieve your stuffy nose. “Steam treatments with peppermint oil can help clear congestion,” says Carrie Lam MD. “Boil a pot of hot water and add 1-2 drops of peppermint oil. Cover your head with a hot towel, then stand over the pot and breathe in the vapor.”
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When your head is pounding and you’ve already taken your Tylenol, what else can you try? Here are recommendations from the experts.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans dealing with the classic sinus headache that comes with a cold, try out a Neti Pot. This technique has been used for centuries to flush out excess mucus and dry the nasal passages with a simple mixture of salt and water. Add lukewarm sterilized water and a packet of saline solution to the Neti Pot, then tilt your head sideways and place the spout into the nostril facing the ceiling. Breathe through your open mouth (not your nose or you’ll snort salt water!) and let the saline solution pour through and drain out of your other nostril. Repeat on the other side, then blow your nose into a clean tissue. “Cleansing with a Neti Pot flushes out the nasal passageways, removing mucus and microbial buildup as it goes,” says Dr. Tynan. “This effectively reduces the discomfort of congestion while also helping the body clear some of the bugs behind it.” She cautions that it’s vital to sterilize your water before using this technique because microbes present in tap water can lead to even more health problems.
Used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, acupressure is a little like a massage—but the practitioner focuses on acupressure points on the body to activate healing. The good news is, if you don’t want to drag yourself out of your bedroom for an acupressure session, there is a technique you can try yourself. “For sinus and front of face headaches, I use the Large Intestine 4 pressure point,” says Dr. Tom Ingegno DACM, MSOM, LAC. This point is located in the webbing between your index finger and thumb “It should be sore and pressure should be applied moderately toward the bone, hold for at least 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.” Stimulate the Large Intestine 4 pressure point alternately to help clear up congestion and relieve sinus headaches. Don’t try it if you’re pregnant—experts note this pressure point should not be activated during pregnancy.
Drinking enough water is one of the best things you can do to relieve sinus pressure. Your body needs to be hydrated to function properly, and headaches can come on when you’re low on H20. “I find that rest and hydration are half the battle when I start feeling sick,” says functional medicine nurse practitioner Cynthia Thurlow, NP. “A little extra rest combined with hydration helps kick your cold fast.”
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This traditional Chinese medicinal remedy dates back to the Han Dynasty (25 A.D.). It combines honey with loquat, a pear-shaped Asian fruit. Unlike most fruit trees, loquat bloom in fall and winter. The honey and loquat act together as a sore throat soother, especially when mixed with hot water to drink. “Loquat is ‘cooling’ according to East Asian Medicine, helping reduce the soreness,” says Dr. Ingegno.
Saltwater gargles are a time-honored way to soothe a sore throat—and there is science to back it up. It’s an anti-inflammatory hero that actually draws fluids from the tissues and reduces inflammation when you’re sick. And it might help you avoid getting sick in the first place. A clinical study from Japan showed that gargling salt water can reduce the chance of catching a cold up 40 percent. The best part is, it’s easy to make at home—add half a teaspoon of table salt to warm water. Then take a big sip and gargle by swishing in your throat and mouth for at least 30 seconds, then spit it out. Keep going until your cup is dry.
Turmeric is a member of the potent ginger family and is well known for its beneficial health properties. It’s a spice that’s commonly used in Asian dishes – you might recognize it as the main flavor in curry. Turmeric contains the chemical curcumin, a powerful antioxidant that is thought to decrease inflammation. “The symptoms of a cold are due to the body’s natural immune system trying to fight it off,” says functional and integrative medicine physician Dr. Yeral Patel, MD. “Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory are great for calming down congestion, headaches and sore throat.”
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Beyond its use as a spice in traditional baking, ginger has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for all sorts of ailments. Ginger contains high levels of antioxidants and antibacterial properties that can help fight off infection, and is often used to reduce coughs brought on by the common cold. “Ginger tea also contains powerful antioxidants including oleoresin, which act as a natural cough suppressant,” says Dr. Kelly Bay. The medicinal properties of ginger are found in its essential oils, antioxidants, and compounds called phenyl alkyl ketones. That and hot cup of tea feels good to drink when you’re under the weather.
The next time you have a cough, try drinking pineapple juice. “Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that helps thin mucus,” says Dr. Tynan. “It’s also high in Vitamin C, and can help with a wet cough. Remember, though, that it’s not always appropriate to stop a cough. Unless the cough is quite uncomfortable, keeping you from sleep, or dangerous for another reason, it’s often best to let the body do what it needs to in order to heal.”
Since ancient times, people have known about the antibacterial and healing properties of honey. Manuka honey is made by bees in Australia and New Zealand that pollinate the native manuka bush, and is often used for medicinal purposes. Adding a teaspoon of it to your cup of tea can soothe your throat and make you feel a little bit better.
“Manuka honey is anti-microbial that fights inflammation in the tissues lining the respiratory tract. It is helpful in treating dry, raspy, irritated coughs,” says Dr. Tynan. Research suggests that honey can be an effective cough suppressant in children, too. A Pediatrics study of 300 children with upper-respiratory infections found that a single dose of 10 g of honey relieved nocturnal cough and helped them sleep. Just never give honey to a child under one year old—it often contains botulinum spores, which can cause a rare kind of poisoning of the nervous system in infants.
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This treatment has been popular with celebrities and health aficionados for more than 40 years. Sometimes called “Myers Cocktail” after the doctor who created the formula, it’s a therapeutic mix of vitamins and minerals are infused directly into the bloodstream via an IV drip. Scientific evidence on this method is mixed, but many swear by it for a quick immune boost. “Getting a vitamin drip with high dose vitamin C and lots of fluids can help you feel better sooner,” says Dr. Myles Spar, MD, chief medical officer of Vault Health.
When you have a cold, all you want to do is curl up in bed. Do it. If you’re feeling the first signs of a cold coming on, like the telltale tickle in the back of your throat and a cough that won’t quit, that means your body needs rest to heal, so go ahead and snuggle in under the covers all day. “If you are coughing or sneezing, stay home so you don’t get the whole office sick,” says Dr. Spar. “Avoid alcohol and high-intensity workouts. You should listen to your body.”
There is some evidence that elderberries can reduce how long you feel sick. “I always keep Sambucus, or elderberry, on hand during the winter months for its antiviral properties,” says Dr. Jerrica Sweetnich ND, CNS of Revitalize Med. “Studies have shown that elderberry inhibits the binding of the influenza virus to the healthy cell, which blocks the replication of the virus and subsequently inhibits its actions.” Experts note that you should never eat or drink any product made from raw elderberries, as they contain a chemical that produces cyanide (and you definitely don’t want to ingest that). And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.