Nutrition

How to treat a cold or flu at home

Viruses are responsible for colds and flu, so antibiotics are not able to cure or prevent these illnesses. Plenty of rest, fluids, and home remedies can help relieve symptoms.

Colds and the flu are common illnesses that can cause many uncomfortable symptoms, such as:

The following home remedies may help prevent illness, reduce symptoms, and shorten the duration of a cold or the flu:

1. Zinc


A zinc supplement may help treat a cold.

Studies suggest that zinc supplementation may help shorten the length of a cold and lessen symptoms.

Experts believe that this is because zinc prevents rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold, from replicating in the body.

People can take zinc as a tablet, lozenge, or syrup, but should always follow the dosage advice on the packaging. Too much zinc can cause nausea and stomach aches.

Zinc is available online and in pharmacies as a supplement or nasal spray. Using a zinc nasal spray can cause people to lose their sense of smell temporarily.

2. Honey

Honey has antimicrobial properties, which may allow it to fight some bacteria and viruses.

One study found that honey was effective in relieving coughing as a symptom of a cold in children over the age of 1 year. Children younger than 1 year should not have honey due to the risk of infant botulism.

People can try stirring some honey into hot water to soothe a sore throat or cough. Adding lemon provides extra flavor and vitamin C.

People can find honey in grocery stores, local markets, and online.


3. Echinacea

Some people use herbal extracts from the Echinacea plant to help prevent colds and relieve nasal symptoms.

Research has shown that components of Echinacea may support the immune system. Some have antiviral properties and may fight against flu viruses.

Research on the effectiveness of Echinacea in treating a cold has produced mixed results to date, with some studies showing no benefit.

Other studies have found that certain Echinacea products may reduce a person’s likelihood of getting a cold by 10–20 percent.

People can purchase Echinacea as a supplement or herbal tea.

4. Garlic

Garlic may help fight off a common cold because it has antibacterial and antiviral properties.

One study found that people who took a daily garlic supplement for 3 months had fewer colds than those in a placebo group.

Garlic has long been a home remedy for colds and the flu. People can eat raw garlic, incorporate cooked garlic into meals, or take a supplement. Unless a person has a garlic allergy, it is usually safe to use.

Fresh garlic is readily available in supermarkets. People who do not like the taste can purchase garlic supplements online.


5. Menthol

Mint or menthol leaves in close up
A person can use menthol leaves for steam therapy.

Blocked sinuses and congested airways are common symptoms of a cold, which menthol can help relieve. Menthol comes from many types of mint plant. It has antibacterial and pain-relieving effects and is an ingredient in many vapor rubs.

People can also add menthol to hot water for a steam inhalation. Although a 2013 study found that menthol inhalation helped reduce coughing due to environmental irritants, there is limited research on its effectiveness in clearing congested airways.

Other research found that vapor rub containing menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor significantly improved sleep in children and adults with cold symptoms. However, the researchers found that the risks could outweigh the benefits, as menthol can sting and irritate the skin.


6. Vitamin D

Vitamin D-3 may be a useful supplement to prevent or reduce the chances of getting a cold.

Research has found a link between vitamin D supplementation and a reduced frequency of colds in university students.

People living in colder climates may also find that a supplement boosts their vitamin D levels during the winter months, when their skin may not get much exposure to sunlight.

7. Oregano oil

Oregano contains thymol and carvacrol, which both have antibacterial effects. People traditionally use essential oils containing thymol to relieve headaches, diarrhea, and coughs.

People may find that taking oregano oil or rubbing it on the chest helps relieve cold symptoms.

8. Reducing stress and sleeping well

Stress or poor sleep may increase the risk of getting a cold or the flu.

One study suggests that lowering stress levels through mindfulness meditation practices or exercise reduces the risk of getting one of these illnesses.

People who participated in a mindfulness meditation or exercise program lost fewer work days due to illness than people in the control group.

A small study in 2015 also found that people who slept for fewer hours were more susceptible to colds.


9. Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria that support gut health and may help prevent people from getting colds or the flu.

Research has shown that probiotics can help protect the immune system against flu viruses. In a controlled trial, there were fewer instances of colds in people who were taking probiotics than in those who were not.

People can purchase probiotic supplements in health food stores or online. Probiotics are also present in many foods, including:

  • yogurt
  • sauerkraut
  • miso
  • tempeh


10. North American ginseng

North American Ginseng root on chopping board
A person can consume ginseng raw or as an herbal tea.

Ginseng may help reduce symptoms of cold or flu, although studies have provided mixed results on its effectiveness.

Research on an herbal product containing North American ginseng found that it reduced the risk and duration of cold and flu symptoms in older adults.

People can consume raw ginseng or take it in the form of a capsule or herbal tea.

11. Berries

Berries contain polyphenols, which have antiviral properties and may help fight flu viruses.

Research has shown that elderberries can reduce symptoms of the flu and that a cranberry beverage could help support immune function. In some in vitro studies, berry extracts demonstrated the potential to help fight off influenza.

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are also good sources of vitamin C, which can help support the immune system.


12. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is vital for keeping the immune system healthy. Many people believe that it may help reduce the frequency of colds.

Although there is no scientific evidence to show that taking vitamin C prevents colds or reduces symptoms during a cold, researchers have suggested that a regular intake of vitamin C could benefit some people in these ways. They stated that while more research is necessary, the general safety and low cost of vitamin C mean that it is a low-risk method for people to test individually.

Citrus fruits and avocados contain high levels of vitamin C. People can also buy vitamin C supplements in pharmacies and online.

When to see a doctor

A cold or flu virus can last for up to 2 weeks, with symptoms usually at their worst for about 2 or 3 days.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people should see a doctor if their cold or flu symptoms last longer than 10 days with no signs of improvement.

If people have any unusual symptoms or their symptoms are very severe, they should contact their doctor.

People who may have a higher risk of complications from the flu should contact their doctor when they initially have flu symptoms, as they may need antiviral treatment.

These people include young children and those who are:

  • pregnant
  • aged 65 years or older
  • at risk due to other medical conditions

If an infant less than 3 months of age has a fever, a parent or caregiver should contact a doctor straight away.

Summary

People may find that the above home remedies help relieve symptoms of a cold and make it pass more quickly.

Other ways to treat symptoms and recover from a cold or the flu include:

  • resting
  • getting plenty of sleep
  • staying warm
  • drinking plenty of water and other clear fluids
  • taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, to lessen aches or pain
  • using a humidifier

People who notice that their symptoms are not improving after 10 days or have any unusual or severe symptoms should see their doctor.

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