Before you down another dose of over-the-counter cold medicine, consider this: Natural home remedies and plenty of rest may help just as much.
The common cold is one of the most widespread viral infections, with an estimated 62 million U.S. cases per year. Researchers and cold sufferers alike have long sought a natural cure from the sniffles and sneezes, with little luck. What you can do, however, is make yourself more comfortable with these home remedies tailored to soothe cold symptoms like cough and stuffy nose.
Teas & Tinctures
Consider trying teas or tinctures (plant extracts) made of things like cayenne pepper, garlic or thyme leaf, says Brigitte Mars, author of The Country Almanac of Home Remedies. Cayenne pepper decreases congestion and is rich in vitamin C, while garlic— an “herbal antibiotic”—dilates passages to the lungs, thereby helping to relieve chest colds and congestion, she says. Thyme leaf is an antiseptic that helps expel phlegm. Try combinations that feel soothing to you, like your favorite hot tea with a couple dashes of cayenne, honey and a squeeze of lemon.
Herbs & Vitamins
A Canadian clinical review of studies measuring the efficacy of supplements like echinacea, vitamin C, zinc and garlic concluded that taking at least 1 gram of vitamin C a day is your best bet to help with colds.
The final word on echinacea as a cold cure-all is still unclear. The review, published recently in the journal Canadian Family Physician, concluded that taking echinacea at the first sign of cold symptoms may “reduce duration and severity of symptoms,” though other studies have concluded it has little more than a placebo effect.
Mars disagrees, claiming that echinacea helps relieve cold symptoms as long as you take it every two hours.
Do beware that echinacea and other herbs and vitamins can interact with prescription medication, so check with your doctor before relying too heavily on these methods.
Studies show that this do-it-yourself treatment, typically using a “neti pot,” helps clear sinuses to provide temporary relief.
“It uses salt water to more forcefully rinse mucous from the sinus cavities and the salt helps reduce inflammation,” says Dr. Gretchen LaSalle, a primary care physician in Spokane, Wash. “This can be a helpful adjunct to home therapy for sinus congestion or a sinus infection. My patients who have difficulty with recurrent sinus infections swear by it. It just takes a little getting used to.”
Several University of Wisconsin studies showed that those using nasal irrigation reported “improved quality of life, less frequent symptoms, and used antibiotics and nasal sprays less often.”
Recently the state of Louisiana issued a warning after two residents died from an amoeba infection linked to the use of contaminated tap water with neti pots. Experts say the risk of contracting such an infection is low, but to be safe, you should use distilled water or tap water boiled then cooled to room temperature to rinse your nasal passages. Then clean with warm, soapy water after each use.
The best home remedy for a cold, according to Mars? Rest. “It’s okay to take a break,” she says.