How to Ease Cold Symptoms Quickly

Three Parts:Treating the SymptomsHelping Your Body Heal ItselfTaking Steps to Prevent Catching or Spreading a Cold

There is no cure for the common cold besides time and your body’s ability to fight it off. The average cold lasts 3-4 days.[1] There are steps you can take to lessen the symptoms and minimize the impact it has on your everyday life.[2] Treat your symptoms to give yourself immediate relief and give yourself time to rest so that your body can recover and you can get back to life as quickly as possible.

Part 1
Treating the Symptoms

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    Monitor your body temperature with a thermometer and reduce a high fever. Fevers are your body’s way of fighting infections, so it is common for people to experience fever while combating a cold. If you are otherwise healthy, having a fever of up to 102 degrees Fahrenheit is no cause for alarm.[3] If you are experiencing discomfort from the fever or have a fever of over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, there are several ways to reduce it.
    • Certain over-the-counter pain killers can be taken to reduce a fever. Take acetaminophen (Tylenol, paracetamol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or aspirin in its recommended dosage.[4] Aspirin should not be giving to children or teenagers.[5] Consult with your doctor before giving any of these medications to an infant under the age of 2.
    • Seek professional medical help if your fever stays consistently above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, does not respond to medication, or lasts for longer than 3 days.[6] Consult your doctor immediately if your infant has a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
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    Take a bath, shower, or sponge bath with lukewarm water.[7] Not only will bathing feel refreshing and help wash off the sweat your body has produced from fever, lukewarm water has been shown to help reduce your fever.[8]
    • Do not bathe in cold water. Cold water will restrict your blood vessels[9] and send more blood to your internal organs,[10] potentially increasing your core body temperature instead of reducing it.
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    Treat nasal congestion and stuffiness with over-the-counter decongestant medication. Nasal congestion is caused when your sinus tissues are inflamed with excess fluid.[11] It may be accompanied by nasal discharge, also known as a runny nose, or post-nasal drip, which can irritate your throat. Nasal congestion may lead to a sinus infection if left untreated.
    • Decongestants typically come in pill form (Sudafed, Sudafed PE) or as nasal sprays (Afrin). Pseudoephedrine (the active ingredient in Sudafed) may cause your blood pressure to rise, and should not be taken by people with high blood pressure. It may also cause drowsiness or cause difficulty sleeping. Do not use nasal sprays for more than 3 days in a row.[12]
    • Do not take an antihistamine for congestion unless your congestion is caused by allergies. Many people mistake seasonal allergies for a cold. If your congestion is accompanied by itchy eyes and frequent sneezing, it is possible you have seasonal allergies and should take an antihistamine.[13]
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    Use a neti pot to wash mucus out of your sinuses. Clean the neti pot with soap and water before use. Fill with a lukewarm saline solution made from distilled or sterile water; never use tap water in a neti pot. If you do not have access to distilled water, sterilize your tap water by bringing it to a boil for 1 minute and allow to cool before use.[14]
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    Breathe in an herbal steam bath to help break up congestion. Bring 4-6 cups of water to a boil and pour into a bowl with a combination of eucalyptus, peppermint leaf, rosemary, thyme, lavender, and salt. Cover the bowl and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Place a towel over your head to trap the steam and hold your head 5-10 inches over the bowl with your eyes closed. Breathe in the steam for no more than 10 minutes.[15]
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    Eat spicy foods to help clear your congestion.[16] The capsicum in hot peppers has been shown to reduce sinus inflammation.[17] If you can tolerate spiciness, sprinkle cayenne pepper or hot sauce on your food. Hot peppers may also help to reduce fever by increasing your blood circulations.[18]
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    Soothe a sore throat by gargling saltwater. The salt helps to draw excess moisture out of inflamed tissues in your throat and helps to break up mucus from post-nasal drip.[19] Dissolve a half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and then gargle the saltwater in the back of your mouth for 30-60 seconds, or up to 3 minutes. Spit out the saltwater and any mucus it has loosened up. Repeat as often as necessary.
    • A sore throat can also be soothed by sucking on lozenges, hard candies, or ice chips. Do not give lozenges or hard candies to children under the age of 4, as they are a choking hazard.[20]
    • You may also use a sore throat spray, which will numb your throat and keep it from hurting. Follow dosing instructions on the product packaging and do not use more frequently than the recommended amount.
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    Drink hot tea with lemon and honey to ease a sore throat and to ingest beneficial vitamins and antioxidants. Try herbal teas made with ginger, basil, chamomile, sage, fennel, licorice root, or peppermint.[21] Black, green, and white teas are also helpful because they contain a lot of antioxidants, which are believed to help strengthen your immunity to illness.[22] Adding lemon to your tea also helps to boost your immunity because lemons are packed with vitamin C and other antioxidants.[23] Honey is very soothing on your throat and has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.[24]
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    Take over-the counter pain relievers to alleviate pain from coughing, sore throat, headache, or general body aches. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, paracetamol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or aspirin can each be used in its recommended dosage. Follow the directions on the packaging for correct dosing information. If you are taking any of these products as a fever reducer, do not take more to treat pain symptoms unless directed to do so by your doctor.

Part 2
Helping Your Body Heal Itself

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    Drink plenty of fluids, such as water, juice, broth, warm water with lemon, and tea. Your body needs water to function properly, and it is recommended you drink at least 8 glasses a day and at least 8 oz. every 2 hours while you are sick.[25] Drinking lots of fluids will allow your body to replace fluids lost from sweating and producing mucus. It also helps loosen that mucus so you can cough it out of your system.[26]
    • Avoid diuretics including alcohol, caffeine, salty foods, and sugary drinks like soda. All of these can cause dehydration and can slow your body’s natural healing process.[27]
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    Get a lot of sleep and rest your body as much as possible. Sleep is the body’s most effective way of self-healing. You should get at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and even more when you are sick.[28]
    • Take time off of work or school if possible to allow your body to rest and recover. Exhausting yourself by working too much while you have a cold will most likely prolong your illness. Taking time off will also prevent you from spreading your cold virus to others.
    • Keep your mind distracted while you are resting by reading a book, watching movies or television shows, playing video games, or doing anything that is not physically demanding. Indulging in things you like to do can also help distract you from how bad you feel.
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    Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. Tobacco smoke can irritate your nasal passages, throat, and lungs, exacerbating your cold symptoms. Tobacco users are also more likely to catch a cold and to have a cold develop into a more serious illness, like pneumonia.[29]
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    Do not take antibiotics for a cold. Colds are caused by viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections.[30]

Part 3
Taking Steps to Prevent Catching or Spreading a Cold

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    Wash your hands often. Washing your hands is one of the best ways to keep germs from spreading.[31] To wash your hands properly, wet your hands, apply soap, then work the soap into a lather by rubbing your hands together. Be sure to spread the soap across your palms, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails. Continue scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds, then rinse off and dry thoroughly.[32]
    • If you do not have access to running water and soap, use a hand sanitizer. Apply the amount directed by the product label and rub the product all over your hands and fingers until dry.[33]
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    Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your arm, not into the air.[34] Cold viruses can be spread through the air. When you cough or sneeze, you are releasing thousands of virus particles into the air that can then infect other people. Limit the spread of those viruses by containing your cough or sneeze.
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    Avoid close contact with others when you or they are sick. Don’t hug, kiss, or shake hands when you or the other person has a cold. This can increase the chances of transmission from one person to another. Also don’t share drinking straws or eating utensils, such as forks and spoons with someone who is sick.[35]
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    Disinfect frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, TV remotes, and children’s toys.[36] Use a disinfecting cleaner spray and disposable paper towels or disinfecting wipes to clean these items thoroughly. Cold viruses can live on surfaces for up to 24 hours, so cleaning them frequently helps limit the transmission from person to person.[37]


  • Taking a day or two off of school or work at the onset of a cold can prevent you from missing even more if your infection persists or worsens because your body hasn’t had a chance to heal itself. If your situation permits, stay home for a day or two to get the rest you need and to prevent transmitting the cold virus to your colleagues.
  • Wash dishes and bedsheets often to prevent the spread of germs to other members of your household. Consider using a single cup to reuse for drinks in order to limit the possibility that someone else may use an infected glass.
  • If you regularly share a bed with someone, consider making arrangements to sleep separately while you are sick. Sleeping close to someone may increase the chances that they will contract your cold virus from you. If you are coughing, sneezing, or tossing and turning during the night, your bedmate may appreciate having their own space to get an uninterrupted night of sleep.


  • Seek professional medical help if your fever stays consistently above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, does not respond to medication, or lasts for longer than 3 days.[38] Consult your doctor immediately if your infant has a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Read the labels of all over-the-counter medication you take. Some medicines have multiple ingredients to treat a variety of symptoms. If you take a cold medication that contains a decongestant and a pain reliever, do not take additional amounts of either drug separately.
  • If you have a persistent fever accompanied by a headache and general body aches, you may have the flu. If your symptoms do not improve after 3 days, you should see a doctor.
  • Call your doctor if you experience cold or flu symptoms and have a chronic illness such as diabetes, asthma, emphysema, heart disease, kidney failure.[39]
  • If you have a cough that lasts longer than 10 days or a sore throat that lasts longer than 7 days, call your doctor. You may have a more serious infection that needs medical attention.[40]

Things You'll Need

  • Cold medicine
  • Lots of water
  • Some spicy food/hot drinks
  • Soap or hand sanitizer
  • Something to keep you entertained while you are resting, such as a good book, a movie, or a video game

Sources and Citations

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Article Info

Categories: Colds and Viruses