Home remedies for symptoms of the common cold

Created date

April 19th, 2018
Neti pots are devices for using water to clear out sinuses, one of many home cold remedies

Neti pots are devices for using water to clear out sinuses, one of many home cold remedies

It may be springtime, but according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the most common viruses that cause colds (human rhinoviruses) thrive in spring, summer, and early fall.

People use a variety of home-based treatments for symptoms of the common cold, but which of them have science on their side?

Irrigating your nose

One of the most bothersome symptom is stuffiness in the nose or sinuses. It can make breathing difficult and lead to headaches and pressure in the ears. Rather than taking over-the-counter decongestants (which can be too drying and potentially interact with your other medication), try a saltwater wash for your nose.

Called nasal saline irrigation, it’s been shown in several research studies to be safe and effective to relieve symptoms—mainly because it washes out mucous.

There are a few ways to perform an irrigation. You can buy squeeze bottles, pressurized cannisters, neti pots (little teapot-shaped devices with long spouts), or battery-powered devices designed for this use. You can use prepared solutions or make some yourself at home, but according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, use only distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water. Using tap water is not safe because it can contain low levels of microorganisms that are killed if you swallow them, but stay alive and prosper in nasal passages, sometimes causing serious infections.

If you have chronic conditions or are taking medications that affect your immune system, talk to your doctor before trying nasal saline irrigation.

Head for the kitchen

Any hot soup or beverage can help cold symptoms in a few ways. The warmth can soothe a sore throat; the steam can loosen congestion, and the extra fluids help hydrate you.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska found, however, that chicken soup in particular may have an additional benefit. Studies show that mom’s specialty—especially if it’s homemade with lots of vegetables—seems to prevent excessive buildup of white blood cells called neutrophils, which are responsible for inflammatory processes that make cold symptoms so unpleasant.

If you need a quick fix to clear up stuffiness, try horseradish. “Put two tablespoons of bottled horseradish on a plate, and then take two deep breaths,” says Robert I. Danoff, D.O., M.S., F.A.C.O.F.P., program director of Family Practice Residency & Combined Family Practice/Emergency Medicine Residency, Jefferson Health Northeast in Philadelphia, Pa. “The powerful aroma tends to irritate the nasal cavity and increases fluids that help to drain the mucous. The result: a less stuffy nose and better drainage.”

Have a hacking cough or sore throat? Put the cough medicine away and reach for the honey. Experts say that the chief effect of honey is it soothes the tissues in your throat, and it also has been shown to contain antioxidants and have antiviral actions. Gargling with saltwater (one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of water) also soothes inflamed tissues. These methods also help you save money—over-the-counter cough medicines are expensive and have been shown to be mostly ineffective for people of any age.

Treat the environment

Wiping your face, especially your nose, can cause skin to become red and flaky. Try using a little petroleum jelly or a dab of a nonalcohol-based cream or lotion.

In addition, keep your skin moist with a room humidifier. “Heat or air-conditioning makes the air very dry, so adding a cool mist humidifier to the room keeps the air moist and makes your skin feel better,” Danoff says.

The water vapor in the air also makes breathing easier and can help you cough up mucous. Be aware, however, that you must keep your humidifier clean or it can make you sicker because of the growth of mold and bacteria.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people with allergies or asthma should talk to their doctor before using a humidifier.

The cure-all

The simplest, most effective home remedy of all is—you guessed it—exercise. Physical activity has been shown to help prevent illness in general, and it can boost your immunity and help oxygen reach infected sinuses and nasal passages. But if you have a fever or a respiratory condition, exercise may do more harm than good, so check with your doctor.

Frequent and thorough handwashing is the best way to prevent colds, but if you choose to go outside to exercise, Mom may have been onto something when she told you to bundle up in cool weather or you might get sick. Scientific evidence has emerged that shows being exposed to cold temperatures may in fact make you more likely to get a cold. Some researchers believe that breathing in cold air through your nose reduces the local immune response, making it a better environment for cold viruses to thrive.