How to Get Rid of a Cold

Three Methods:Helping Your Immune System FightControlling Your SymptomsPreventing a Cold

A cold is a viral infection that infects your nose and throat. Having a cold makes it much harder to go about your daily life, even if you aren’t sick enough to need medical attention. Most can be effectively treated at home, but if you have one that lasts longer than two weeks, you should see a doctor to make sure it isn’t something more serious.[1]

Method 1
Helping Your Immune System Fight

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    Drink extra water. Having a drippy nose or a fever causes you to lose moisture. Make sure you drink enough so that you aren’t forcing your body to deal with both the cold and the physical stress of dehydration.[2]
    • When you sleep, keep a cup of water, juice, clear broth, or warm lemon water near your bed. If you sleep restlessly, this will enable you to take a few swallows each time you wake and avoid dehydration throughout the night. Avoid alcohol and coffee. Both will dehydrate you.
    • If you are urinating infrequently or passing dark or cloudy urine, these are signs that you are dehydrated.
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    Get extra sleep. Most adults require about 8 hours per night when they are healthy. If you are fighting off a cold, you will probably need more.[3]
    • Give yourself permission to nap. When you are sleepy, that is your body telling you what it needs.
    • Being fully rested will help boost your immune system and enable your body to fight the cold more effectively.
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    Ease breathing difficulties with humidity. If you have a stuffy nose or coughing, it can be very difficult to sleep at night. Try keeping the air in your bedroom moist with a cool-mist humidifier or a vaporizer. The better you sleep, the more energy you will have to fight off the virus.[4]
    • If you don’t have a humidifier or vaporizer you can quickly and cheaply make one. Put a pot of warm water on the radiator and let it slowly evaporate overnight.
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    Avoid getting chilled. A low fever will make the air temperature around you feel colder. If you are so cold that you start shivering, this will cost your body energy that it could be using to fight the cold virus. If you have to go to work or school, bundle up with an extra warm layer of clothing like a big sweater. If you can stay home, add an extra blanket to your bed.
    • Try using a hot water bottle or sipping a cup of warm tea if you have trouble getting warm.
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    Keep up your energy with chicken broth. The nutrients and salt will replenish your electrolytes. In addition, the warm steam will help clear your nose.[5]
    • If you have an appetite for something more substantial, you can add chunks of chicken, noodles, peas, carrots, and other nutritious vegetables to the broth.

Method 2
Controlling Your Symptoms

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    Treat congestion with steam. Boil a pot of water and then add essential oils like eucalyptus or rosemary to the water. Put the pot on the table on a thick cork coaster and breathe in the steam. This will smell good, relax you, and help relieve the blockage in your nose.[6]
    • Maximize the amount of steam you inhale by using a towel to form a tent over your head and the pot. Inhale the steam for at least 10 minutes or until you get relief.
    • Children must be supervised so they don’t accidentally burn themselves on the hot water or hot pot.
    • Do not ingest the eucalyptus oil or allow a child to do so. It can be poisonous.
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    Apply a vapor rub to your chest when you sleep. This will help keep your nose clear as you lie flat. Apply it to the skin on your chest and inhale the vapor. Read and follow the instructions on the packaging when applying it.[7]
    • Do not apply it to your nostrils because this puts you at risk of inhaling small droplets into your lungs.
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    Clear your nose with saline drops. If the drops just contain salt water, they are safe, even for children. They will help dry out the nose and make breathing easier. They are available over-the-counter without a prescription.[8]
    • Some saline sprays and drops contain more than just salt and water. Read the ingredients on the label to determine if they also contain preservatives. These preservatives may harm the cells in the lining of your nose. If you are using a spray with preservatives, do not use it more often than is recommended on the packaging. In addition, consult a doctor before using it if you are pregnant, nursing, or treating a child.
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    Try decongestant medications if saline solution didn’t work. These medications can be taken orally or as nasal sprays. They are available over-the-counter. They should only be used for a week at the longest, after which they may cause inflammation of the tissues in your nose, which will make your symptoms worse. In addition, decongestants are not safe for everyone. Consult your doctor before using them if you:[9][10]
    • Are pregnant or are unsure if you are pregnant
    • Are breastfeeding
    • Are treating a child under 12
    • Are diabetic
    • Have high blood pressure
    • Have hyperthyroidism
    • Have an enlarged prostate
    • Have liver damage
    • Have kidney or heart problems
    • Have glaucoma
    • Are taking antidepressants that are monoamine oxidase inhibitors
    • Are taking other medications, even over-the-counter medications or herbal supplements, and you are unsure if they could interact
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    Soothe an itchy, scratchy throat by gargling with warm saltwater. The warmth will be soothing if your throat is sore from coughing. The salt may also help fight the infection.[11]
    • Mix at least 1/4th of a teaspoon of table salt into a glass of warm water until it is completely dissolved and you no longer see it. If you don’t mind the taste of the salt, you can add more to make it stronger.
    • Tip your head back and gargle. Children should be supervised during this process so that they do not choke.
    • Try to gargle for about one minute. Do not swallow the water when you are done because it has lots of germs from your throat in it. Spit it into the sink instead.
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    Lower a fever or ease pain with over-the-counter pain medications. This will also be effective against headaches or joint pain. Commonly used medications include ibuprofen or acetaminophen/paracetamol. Consult a doctor before using these medications if you are pregnant, nursing, or treating a child.[12][13]
    • Follow your doctor’s instructions or the directions on the packaging when determining the dosages, especially for children. Check the ingredients in any other cold medicines you may be taking to make sure they do not contain the same ingredients. If so, do not take them together because this increases your risk of overdosing.
    • Aspirin should not be given to children or teenagers because it is associated with Reye’s syndrome.
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    Talk to your doctor before suppressing a cough. Coughing is your body’s way of removing pathogens and irritants from your airways. Suppressing the cough may be necessary if you can’t sleep, but it may make it harder for your body to clear the virus from your system.[14][15]
    • Do not give cough syrups to children younger than two. For older children, follow the instructions on the bottle. If there are no instructions specific to your child’s age, consult a doctor.
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    Avoid ineffective remedies. There are several remedies that people use that are either known to be ineffective or do not have sufficient evidence to suggest that they are successful. If you do use alternative treatments, consult your doctor first because they may interact with other medications. These treatments include:[16][17]
    • Antibiotics. Colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria, so antibiotics will not help.
    • Echinacea. The evidence for the effectiveness of Echinacea is unclear. Some studies suggest it helps when you take it at the start of a cold, others suggest it is ineffective.
    • Vitamin C. The evidence is mixed. Some studies suggest that it may shorten the cold, others suggest it does not help.
    • Zinc. Some studies suggest that zinc may help when taken at the start of the cold. Other studies suggest it is not useful. Do not take zinc intranasally because it can cause you to lose your sense of smell.
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    Bring a child with a severe infection to the doctor. The doctor will check to make sure the infection is not something more serious than a common cold. Symptoms to watch out for include:[18]
    • A child younger than three with a fever.[19] Older children should be checked by a doctor if they have a fever for more than three days or a fever that is over 103 F.
    • Dehydration. Children that are dehydrated may be tired, urinate infrequently, or pass dark or cloudy urine.
    • Vomiting
    • Abdominal pain
    • Difficulty staying awake
    • Extreme headaches
    • A stiff neck
    • Problems breathing
    • Crying for a long time. Especially in children that are too young to say what’s wrong.
    • Earaches
    • A cough that doesn’t go away
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    Go to the doctor if you are an adult with a severe infection. Symptoms to watch out for as an adult include:[20]
    • Fever of 103 F or higher
    • Sweating, chills, and coughing up colored mucus
    • Severely swollen glands
    • Extreme sinus pain

Method 3
Preventing a Cold

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    Wash your hands often. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first. These are all entry points for cold viruses. By washing your hands frequently, you can reduce the amount of viruses on your hands.[21]
    • Rub your hands together with soap under running water for at least 20 seconds. If it is available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose, or shaking hands with other people.
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    Avoid people who are sick. This means not shaking hands, hugging, kissing, or touching people who have symptoms. If possible, disinfect objects like keyboards, doorknobs, or toys that sick people or children have been touching. You can also limit your exposure to sick people by avoiding crowds. This is particularly true of crowds in small spaces with little air circulation such as:[22]
    • Schools
    • Offices
    • Public transportation
    • Auditoriums
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    Power your immune system with a nutritious diet. Most colds do not take away your appetite. If you think a cold is coming on, make sure to supply your body with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and fight off the virus.
    • Eat diverse fruits and vegetables to make sure you get the vitamins you need.
    • Whole-grain breads are excellent sources of energy and fiber.
    • Get protein through healthy, low fat sources such as poultry, beans, fish and eggs.
    • Even though you may be tired, avoid eating pre-packaged processed foods. They are likely to have a lot of sugar, salt and fat. This will make you feel full without providing a balanced diet with the nutrients you need.
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    Develop techniques for coping with stress. Stress causes hormonal and physiological changes in your body which can suppress your immune system and increase your chances of getting an infection. You can cope with stress by:[23]
    • Exercising daily. This will release endorphins which will improve your mood and help you relax physically and emotionally.
    • Sleep for 8 hours each night. Some adults may need as many as 10 hours. Try to stick to a regular schedule that allows you enough sleep so that you can wake up without being exhausted in the morning.
    • Meditation
    • Yoga
    • Massage
    • Having close relationships that provide social support


  • Always consult a doctor before taking any medications, supplements, or herbal remedies. This is particularly important if you are pregnant, think you might be pregnant, are breastfeeding or treating a child.
  • Do not give aspirin to children or teenagers.
  • Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging.
  • Over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and supplements can interact with medications. Make sure your doctor is aware of all of the substances that you are taking.
  • Avoid taking multiple medications with the same active ingredient at the same time. This can cause an accidental overdose.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Colds and Viruses