How to Get over a Cold

Three Methods:Supporting Your Immune SystemOver-the-Counter TreatmentsHome Remedies

A bad cold can derail your plans, make you miserable, and keep you bedridden when you'd rather be out and about. The best way to get over a cold is to get plenty of rest, support your immune system with healthy habits, and relieve your symptoms with herbs and medicine. Take the time to treat your body right. The cold was caused by a compromised immune system, and your immune system must overcome the cold before you can get better; so work with your body, and give it the tools it needs to heal itself.

Method 1
Supporting Your Immune System

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    Get plenty of sleep. The average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and sleep is even more important when your immune system is compromised. Make sure that you're well-rested: don't stay up too late, and sleep in when possible. Sleep gives your body time to heal.
    • Consider calling in sick at work--or going in late--to give yourself plenty of time to sleep in. You don't need to stay in bed all day unless you feel so inclined, but try at least to take it easy.
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    Stay hydrated. It is easy to become dehydrated when you're sick, and dry sinuses will only worsen your cold symptoms. Drink plenty of water, tea, and soup to minimize irritation.
    • Avoid drinking alcohol and sugary drinks, as even low consumption can weaken your immune system.[1] Wait to resume these habits until you're well and your immune system is ready for the beating.
    • Consider using a humidifier in your bedroom to keep from breathing dry air at night. You can buy an electric humidifier at some department stores and drugstores.
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    Avoid exposure to germs. Your immune system is already compromised, so try to stay away from bacteria that might make your condition worse. Avoid hospitals, crowded areas, and other sick people; avoid any place where germs congregate. Wash your hands with antibacterial hand sanitizer several times throughout the day.[2]
    • Consider carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer about with you. Whenever you come into contact with germs or sick people, cleanse your hands.
    • Avoid infecting others, especially children, the elderly, and anyone with a weak immune system. Cover your nose and mouth with your arm, a tissue, or a handkerchief when you sneeze or cough. Wash infected pillowcases, towels, clothing, and utensils to avoid reinfecting yourself once you're well.
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    Avoid sugar. Sugar consumption weakens your immune system, and eating a lot of sugar-heavy foods may reduce your body's ability to recover from cold symptoms. There is some medical disagreement as to whether avoiding sugar during a cold can actually reduce the duration, but it is generally accepted that avoiding sugar in general is better for your immune system.
    • People tend to get sick at times when they're eating a lot of sugar: times of stress, and during the winder months. Stress itself weakens the immune system, so the combination can be dangerous.[3] It is best to avoid excess sugar before these times, so that you don't compound the problem.
    • Avoid candy, soda, and other sweets. Fruit juice is sugary, but it is also typically high in Vitamin C--just try to avoid juices that have a lot of sugar added to them.
    • Many other animals are able to convert sugar into vitamin C, but humans cannot. Sugar competes with vitamin C in the body, so high sugar consumption often results in low vitamin C concentrations.

Method 2
Over-the-Counter Treatments

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    Use nasal decongestants to relieve sinus symptoms. Decongestants will not reduce the duration of your cold, but they may make it easier to tolerate the symptoms. These drugs are available in pill, chewable, and liquid form; you may also consider using steroidal nasal sprays. Decongestants are generally safe to take, provided that you follow the dosage instructions listed on the package. You can find nonprescription decongestants in the aisles of most pharmacies, drugstores, and grocery stores.
    • The active ingredient in most commercial decongestants is either pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. Decongestants work by narrowing blood vessels in the lining of the nose. This reduces how much blood flows through the area so that swollen tissue inside the nose shrinks and air can pass through more easily.
    • Do not use decongestant medications for more than 3 days, lest your body becomes dependent on them. If you become dependent on these medicines, your nose may feel even more stuffed up when you quit using them. This is known as the “rebound effect.”[4]
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    Use cough suppressants to relieve coughing. You can find over-the-counter cough syrup in most pharmacies and grocery stores, and you can find soothing cough drops--medicated and non-medicated--in the same places. Some cough syrups are designed to facilitate your function in everyday life, while some (such as Nyquil and Z-Quil, and any medicine ending in "PM") will help you sleep when your coughing keeps you awake.[5]
    • Dextromethorphan is the primary active ingredient in most cough medicines. It is safe to ingest in moderation, but do not drink more than the recommended dose--especially if the bottle contains the expectorant guaifenesin--and avoid taking it if you are on antidepressants.
    • Consider carrying cough drops around with you throughout the day. Cough syrup lasts much longer than cough drops, but cough drops tend to be herbal, non-medicated relievers that will not make you drowsy.
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    Use over-the-counter pain relievers to alleviate headaches, sore throats, and other pain. Pain medications will not shorten the duration of your cold, but they may make some of the symptoms more bearable. You should only use these drugs to temporarily relieve severe pain; do not use them habitually, and be careful not to develop a dependence.
    • The active ingredient in most over-the-counter pain medications is either acetaminophen or any of several nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Although these products are effective at relieving pain, not everyone responds to them the same way--so if one drug doesn't work for you, another might.[6]
    • Make sure to follow the dosages listed on the packaging. Never take more than the suggested dose, and never take pain relievers for longer than recommended. "Nonprescription" does not mean "nontoxic". An overdose of acetaminophen, for instance, can cause liver failure that can lead to liver transplant or death.

Method 3
Home Remedies

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    Try using menthol or honey to relieve coughing and sore throat pain. If you don't want to take over-the-counter pain cough suppressants or pain relievers, you can use natural compounds to similar effect.
    • Consider using menthol--the active chemical in mint--to relieve your throat symptoms. Keep a package of Altoids with you, or gargle with mint-flavored mouthwash, and use the mild numbing effect of the menthol to soothe your pain.
    • Consider using honey as a cough suppressant. Researchers have tested it against dextromethorphan and found honey even more effective. This trick may be especially useful for treating children who refuse the taste of over-the-counter cough suppressants.[7] Be careful not to over-use honey, however, as the sweetness that suppresses coughs may also weaken the immune system in large doses.
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    Try using menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor oil to open your sinuses. Place a small dab of mentholated salve under your nose to help open breathing passages and help restore the irritated skin at the base of the nose. Menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor all have mild numbing ingredients that may help relieve the pain of a nose rubbed raw.[8]
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    Consider taking herbal supplements to boost your immune system. Support your immune system with vitamins, herbs, and other natural aids: vitamin C, zinc, garlic, ginseng, echinacea, etc. Consider taking a multivitamin for general support. These supplements will not magically cure your cold, but they may strengthen your body and enable it to fight the infection more effectively.[9]
    • You can find immune-support supplements in health-food stores and many grocery stores. Research the effects of any herbal supplement before you put it into your body--but know that these herbs and vitamins typically aren't nearly so potentially hazardous as many over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.[10]
    • Echinacea has been touted as an "immune stimulant", but its supposed ability to prevent or reduce the severity of colds is disputed within the medical community. Laboratory tests have shown garlic working against bacteria, viruses, and fungi, although further research is pending. A number of small studies—and staunch practitioners of eastern medicine—suggest that ginseng can powerfully stimulate immune function.
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    Drink hot liquids to relieve nasal congestion. Hot liquids help relieve nasal congestion, prevent dehydration, and soothe the inflamed membranes that irritate your nose and throat. Hot tea, hot soup, hot water with lemon juice or hot herbal tea are good choices. Make sure that the liquid isn't uncomfortably hot, or else you may scald your throat and put yourself into even greater discomfort.[11]
    • If you're so congested you can't sleep at night, try a hot toddy, an age-old remedy. Make a cup of hot herbal tea. Add one teaspoon of honey and one small shot (about 1 ounce) of whiskey or bourbon. Limit yourself to one. Too much alcohol inflames the sinus membranes, which is counterproductive if you're trying to treat a cold.
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    Gargle with warm salt water to relieve a sore throat. Gargle at least once each hour with 1 tsp (5 g) of salt dissolved in 8 fl oz (240 mL) of warm water to reduce swelling and relieve your discomfort. If you have post-nasal drip--mucus running down from the back of your nose into your throat--gargle often to prevent more throat irritation.[12]
    • Consider gargling with apple cider vinegar.[13] The high levels of acidity can kill bacteria in your throat--plus, apple cider vinegar helps boost your immunity by increasing your white blood cell count, and it is a natural expectorant that kills bacteria and loosens phlegm.
    • Consider gargling with antibacterial mouthwash. The mouthwash may not relieve your symptoms, necessarily, but it will kill some of the bacteria in your throat so that the germs propagate more slowly.
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    Apply hot packs to your face to open congested sinuses. You can buy reusable hot packs at a drugstore, but you can make your own at home. Take a damp washcloth and heat it for 30 seconds in a microwave. You can also run hot faucet water (or pour hot/boiling water) over a washcloth until it is thoroughly soaked. Before you apply the hot pack to your face, make sure that it isn't going to scald you.
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    Blow your nose often to relieve congestion. Blow gently so that you don't irritate your sinuses or disturb your inner ear--hard blowing could cause nosebleeds and ear infections. Try holding one nostril shut and blowing out of the other, then switching nostrils.
    • Blow your nose into your hands during a hot shower, and let the water wash away any mucus. This is a great way to completely--if temporarily--clear your sinuses.
    • Consider using a fresh roll of toilet paper as a cheap alternative to tissues. Keep the roll near you in case you need to wipe your nose, blow your nose, or sneeze.
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    Keep your head elevated to avoid becoming congested when you sleep. Prop your head on one or two extra pillows; make sure that they're clean. You may become congested at night as fluids flow to the back of your throat, especially if you usually sleep on your back. Consider sleeping on your side or your stomach to keep your throat and nose open.


  • Remember to use hand sanitizer (or wash your hands the good old-fashioned way) several times a day to avoid getting that cold back or spreading it to others while you have it.
  • Blowing your nose too hard can result in a nose bleed or cause ear infections. Blow gently and use a good quality tissue to prevent irritation.
  • Rest a lot. If you're tired, sleep. Don't stay up until the wee hours of the morning on the Internet.


  • Contact your doctor if symptoms worsen or are not better after a few days. This could be more than just a cold! Ask your doctor what types of medicine you should take.

Article Info

Categories: Colds and Viruses