15 Most Effective Remedies to Treat Common Cold at Home

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Manveen Sibia
Manveen had an illustrious career in journalism and writing. She is the mother of a super active 7-year-old. While chasing her around the house, she also finds time to pursue her passion for writing on parenting, education, health, fitness, and entertainment.

The common cold is one of the main reasons why children miss school. While an adult will have two to three colds per year, children will have up to 12 per year. The symptoms include a combination of runny nose, sore throat, cough, body aches, fever, and chills. There is no cure for this infection. The over-the-counter medicines can help lower the symptoms, but they cannot make the cold go away faster. Thankfully, many home remedies can alleviate the symptoms and make you feel better.

What is a common cold?

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. Though it primarily affects the nose and the throat, the sinuses and larynx may also be affected. The signs and symptoms of common cold appear within three days of being exposed to the virus. These include runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, coughing, headache, and fever.

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People usually recover within ten days, but in some cases, the symptoms may last for three weeks. However, people with weakened immune systems, respiratory conditions, or asthma may develop severe illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia. There are around 200 viruses that can lead to a common cold. Our bodies can never build up resistance to all of them, which is the reason why common colds are so common, and they often return.

How to protect yourself

The common cold is contagious and can spread by air droplets from coughs and sneezes and by touching the infected area. To reduce the risk of getting a cold, you can –

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if the water is not available.
  • Don’t touch your nose, eyes, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Sick people can spread the virus through close contact. Stay away from such people.

How to protect others

If you have a cold, you can protect others by following these steps.

  • Stay at home if you are sick. Avoid sending your kids to school or daycare if they are sick
  • Avoid close contact with others
  • Move away from people while coughing and sneezing
  • Cover your mouth and your nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough
  • Disinfect frequently touched objects like doorknobs and toys

Home remedies

Antibiotics and antiviral medications are not effective against most viruses that cause the common cold. Though there is no way to treat or cure a common cold, you can ease the symptoms in several different ways. These include –

1. Stay hydrated

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Drink plenty of water to help moisturize the lining of the nose and throat and to help loosen the congestion. Drinking fluids helps prevent dehydration, which can make you feel worse when you have a cold. Water, juice, warm broth, warm lemon water with honey are good options to stay will prevent dehydration. Avoid alcohol, sodas, and caffeinated drinks as they will make dehydration worse.

2. Gargling

Gargling with salt water can help prevent upper respiratory infection. It helps to decrease the symptoms of cold, like throat pain and nasal congestion. When you gargle with salt water, it helps to loosen mucus, which contains bacteria and allergens.  Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt to an 8-ounce glass of warm water and swish it around your mouth. This helps to relieve a sore or scratchy throat temporarily.

3. Humidity

A cool-mist humidifier can add moisture to your home, which may reduce your exposure to viruses. Increased humidity can also help to loosen congestion and reduce nasal inflammation, making it easier to breathe. Change the water in the humidifier daily to stop mold and fungi from growing. You can also take a long shower or linger in a steamy bathroom to replicate the effect of a humidifier.

4. Chicken soup

Chicken soup is a great choice when you have a cold. It helps to keep you hydrated and soothes a sore throat. Drinking a bowl of warm chicken soup can slow down the movement of neutrophils in the body. These white blood cells help protect the body from infections. When they slow down, they stay concentrated in the areas of the body that require healing (1).

Chicken soup also contains dissolved joint tissue from the bones. The gelatine, glucosamine, and chondroitin released in the broth is absorbed by our bodies and is used to reduce inflammation. This process helps you recover faster from an illness.

5. Ginger

Ginger has been used for centuries for its health benefits. Studies have also shown that the anti-inflammatory gingerols, shogaols, paradol, and zingerone in ginger root can help relieve sore throat (2). Ginger can also ward off feelings of nausea. According to a study by the University of Exeter, UK, ginger is highly effective in treating nausea caused by different conditions (3).

Take a one-inch piece of ginger and grate it. Put this ginger in a tea strainer and put it into a cup. Pour boiling water into the cup. Let the tea sit for five minutes.  Add a spoon of honey.  Drink two to three cups of ginger tea per day for relief from cold.

6. Garlic

Garlic contains a beneficial compound called allicin, which provides it with antibacterial and antiviral properties to help fight the common cold. During one study, 146 participants took either a garlic tablet or a placebo for three months. The study found that the people who took garlic tablets had fewer colds as compared to the placebo group (4). You can eat raw garlic, incorporate it into meals, or take a supplement.

7. Honey

Coughing is a common symptom of cold that can lead to a sore throat and sleepless nights. Honey has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that can help ease the pain linked to a sore throat. According to one study, giving 10 grams of honey to children at bedtime can reduce the severity of their cough. Honey also helps the children to sleep more soundly (5). Children younger than one year should not consume honey as it often contains botulinum spores, which can be harmful to infants.

8. Probiotics

Several studies have shown that probiotics can improve the body’s immunity. They help the body to fight off infections like the common cold. Not only do they lower your risk of getting cold, but it also helps to reduce the severity of the symptoms. According to a meta-analysis of ten studies that studied the effects of probiotics on cold symptoms, probiotics have a modest impact on reducing common cold symptoms (6).

9. Menthol

Menthol is a natural cooling ingredient found in mint plants. It has antibacterial and pain-relieving properties that help in treating cold and cough.  Menthol is an ingredient in many vapor rubs. According to a 2013 study, menthol inhalation can help in reducing cough (7).

10. Echinacea

The Echinacea plant contains flavonoids that help boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.  According to a review, taking echinacea helps to lower your risk of developing common cold by 50 % and shortening the duration of the symptoms by 1 to 4 days (8). You can take Echinacea root as a tea to prevent cold and to lower its symptoms.

11. Elderberry

Elderberry syrup has been used for centuries to treat cold. It is high in vitamin C and antioxidants. This syrup reduces the severity and duration of the infection if taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms. According to a 2016 study, when 312 long-haul airline passengers took elderberry extract ten days before their flight and five days after their trip, they had 50% fewer sick days resulting from a cold and also a noticeable reduction in symptoms (9).

12. Zinc

Most colds are caused by the rhinovirus, which thrives in the throat and the nasal passages. Zinc prevents the rhinovirus from multiplying. It also prevents the rhinovirus from getting lodged in the mucous membranes of the nose and the throat. Zinc may be more effective in preventing cold when it is taken as a lozenge or syrup, which allows the substance to stay in the throat.

According to a 2013 study, when zinc is administered within 24 hours of the onset of the common cold symptoms, it reduces the duration of the symptoms (10).

13. Vitamin D

We are all aware that vitamin D helps protect our bones.  Recent studies have also shown that the sunshine vitamin can help boost immunity and reduce the risk of developing respiratory infections like cold and flu. During a 2014 study that involved 600 University students, researchers found that vitamin D3 supplementation can reduce the frequency of colds in university students (11). People living in colder climates should boost their intake of vitamin D with supplements to avoid catching colds.

14. Reduce stress

Studies have shown that stress and poor sleep can increase the risk of cold and flu. According to a study from Wisconsin, training in mindfulness meditation and exercise can reduce the risk of acute respiratory illnesses (12). Short sleep duration and poor sleep continuity can also make you more susceptible to colds (13). So, practice meditation or yoga and sleep better to prevent cold.

15. Essential oils

Essential oils have potent antiviral and antibacterial properties that can help relieve the symptoms of the common cold. Eucalyptus essential oil, peppermint oil, frankincense essential oil, oregano essential oil, and clove essential oil can help to ease cold symptoms. You can diffuse these oils using aromatherapy diffusers. Steam inhalation is also helpful. You can also add a few drops of essential oils to your bath to help you relax.

Difference between common cold and flu

Both cold and flu have similar symptoms, so it becomes difficult for us to differentiate between the two. A cold usually comes on slowly, starting with a runny nose, a sore throat, or sneezing. The flu, on the other hand, comes more quickly and causes extreme tiredness, fever, body aches, and cough. Both can last for one to two weeks. The flu is worse than cold and may lead to complications that need hospitalization.

Final thoughts

The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract. The signs and symptoms of common cold appear within three days of being exposed to the virus. These include runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, coughing, headache, and fever.  Antibiotics and antiviral medicines are ineffective against most viruses that cause the common cold. You can treat cold symptoms with home remedies like staying hydrated, gargling, chicken soup, ginger, garlic, and several other herbs, essential oils, and supplements.

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