How to Make Yourself Feel Better When You Have a Cold

Three Parts:Easing SymptomsTaking MedicationsPreventing Complications

It’s common to catch a cold virus every now and then. Colds usually run their course and go away in three to four days, though some symptoms may linger for a little longer. Symptoms of a cold can include a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, body aches, headache, sneezing or low-grade fever. When you have a cold it can be uncomfortable, and you will most likely want to feel better right away.[1]

Part 1
Easing Symptoms

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    Make yourself some tea. Hot tea can be soothing to a sore throat, make mucus easier to cough up, and the steam can help ease inflammation. Chamomile tea is a popular herbal tea for colds but there are many varieties available that work well. Black and green tea contain phytochemicals that may help fight colds, and green tea may help rehydrate your body.
    • Add honey to your tea. The honey will coat your throat and help keep your cough at bay.
    • If your cold is keeping you up, you can add one teaspoon of honey and around 25 ml of whiskey or bourbon to your tea to help you sleep. Only drink one of these because too much alcohol can make your cold worse.[2]
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    Take a hot bath or shower. This will relax you, so you can unwind. The steam helps loosen mucus, calm inflammation in your sinuses, and relieve a stuffy nose. You will want to keep the bathroom door shut to encourage more steam accumulation, and inhale the steam for ten to fifteen minutes.[3]
    • You can also add aromatherapy or essential oils, such as eucalyptus or peppermint, to your bath so that the steam is more effective at combating your congestion.
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    Inhale steam directly. You don’t need to take a shower to reap the benefits of steam. Boil a pot of water, lower the heat and place your face a safe distance above the steaming water. Breathe in the steam slowly through your mouth and nose, being careful not to scald yourself on the pot or get too close to the hot steam.
    • You can also add a couple drops of aromatherapy or essential oils, such as eucalyptus or peppermint, to make your steam treatment even more effective.
    • If you can’t boil water at the moment, get a cloth wet with warm water and lay it over your face to cool.
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    Use nasal spray or drops. Nasal sprays and drops can be purchased at your local drug or grocery store and tend to very effective for relieving dryness and congestion. Plus, they are safe and don’t irritate your nasal tissues — even children can use them. Be sure to follow the directions on your label.
    • Try blowing your nose a few minutes after using the saline spray or drops. It will be easier to get the mucus out, and your nose may actually clear up for a while after using them.
    • For infants, you can put a few drops of saline nasal drops into one nostril. Use a bulb syringe to suction the mucus out by inserting it 1/4–1/2 inch into the nostril. [4]
    • You can make your own saline rinse by mixing a half-pint of warm water with a pinch of salt and soda bicarbonate. To be safe, you should boil your water and let it cool before inserting it into your nose. Squirt the mixture into one nostril while you keep the other nostril closed. You can repeat this 2–3 times before doing it to the other nostril.[5]
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    Try a neti pot. A neti pot uses nasal irrigation to flush out mucus and help clear congestion. Neti pot systems are readily available at your local drug, grocery ,or health food store. They can really help you breathe easier when you have a cold.
    • Mix one cup of warm water and ½ teaspoon of kosher salt. Boil the water beforehand and let it cool to kill any bacteria or pathogens that might be present. Fill up the neti pot with the water and salt solution.
    • You will want to stand over a sink or drain. Tip your head to the side so that it is horizontal and place the neti pot into the upper nostril. Pour the saline into the nostril until it comes out the other nostril. Repeat with the other nostril.
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    Apply vapor rub. These rubs are popular for use with children because the vapors are cooling and can soothe cough and relieve congestion. Rub the vaporub on the chest and back. You can also use a vaporub or mentholated cream under your nose if the skin is raw from repeated nose blowing.
    • It is not recommended that you put any rubs or creams directly under a child’s nose due to irritation or breathing problems that can develop related to the fumes.
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    Apply hot or cold over your sinuses. You can use hot or cold packs and place them on the areas that are congested. To make your own hot pack, use a damp cloth and heat it in the microwave for about 55 seconds. For a cold pack, use a bag of frozen vegetables with a cloth wrapped around it.
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    Take Vitamin C. Vitamin C can help shorten your cold. You can take up to 2,000mg daily. Always tell your doctor before starting new supplements or vitamins.
    • If you take too much vitamin C, you can get diarrhea. Don’t take more than the recommended dose.[6]
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    Try taking Echinacea. You can drink Echinacea tea or take capsules, both of which can usually be found at your local grocery store. Like vitamin C, this herb may shorten your cold symptoms. Unless you have immune system issues or are on medications, go ahead and give it a try. Otherwise, speak to your doctor first.
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    Take zinc. Zinc can be especially effective if it is taken as soon as you begin to feel the first symptoms of a cold. It could prove to be beneficial in helping you fight your cold. If you get nausea from taking zinc, then take it when you eat food. [7]
    • Don’t use nasal zinc gels or other intranasal zincs. It can cause damage that might make you lose your ability to smell.
    • Zinc in large doses can cause nausea and vomiting.
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    Suck on lozenges. Throat lozenges, or cough drops, come in many flavors — from honey to cherry to menthol. Some of them contain numbing medicines like menthol that will help you to feel better if you have a sore throat. The lozenge is dissolved slowly in your mouth over time, providing sore throat and cough relief.
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    Use a humidifier. Cool-mist humidifiers or vaporizers add moisture to the air and, like steam, help break up mucus so it is not as thick. They can ease congestion and coughing so that you sleep better. Always follow the directions for your humidifier, and clean it properly so that it does not grow bacteria or molds.
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    Gargle. Gargling with warm salt water can reduce inflammation and relieve your sore or scratchy throat. It can help loosen mucus and make you feel better. If you make your own gargle, ensure that it cools first before you use it.
    • A salt-water gargle can be made by dissolving a teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water.
    • If you have an annoying tickle in your throat, you might try gargling with tea.
    • You can also try a thicker gargle made with 50 ml of honey, steeped sage leaves and cayenne pepper in 100 ml of water, boiled for 10 minutes.
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    Enjoy some soup. Warm broth can really help your cold symptoms. The steam can clear up your sinus congestion and relieve your sore throat. Plus, the soup keeps you hydrated. Interestingly enough, chicken soup can actually reduce inflammation in some people and may help you fight off your cold.[8]

Part 2
Taking Medications

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    Don’t use antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. If you have a cold, you don’t need antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and not viral infections, such as a cold. Additionally, antibiotics can have side effects, and using them when you don’t need to can contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
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    Take non-prescription pain relievers. Acetaminophen, naproxen, and ibuprofen can help with sore throat, headache, body aches and fever. These medications are readily available nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) found in drug and grocery stores. Be sure to follow the directions on the label when taking pain relievers.
    • Some NSAIDs have side effects and can cause stomach issues or liver damage. Never take NSAIDs long-term or take larger doses than those that are recommended. If you have to take an NSAID for more than four times a day or for more than two to three days, then you should contact your doctor. [9]
    • NSAIDs are not approved for infants under three months. Always check the dosages of the pain relievers that you are using for older babies and children. Some formulations are very concentrated.[10]
    • Aspirin should not be given to children under 12 due to the risk of Reye's syndrome.
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    Take a cough suppressant. Coughing helps get mucus out of your lungs and throat. However, if your cough is very painful or you can’t sleep, then you might consider using a cough suppressant temporarily. Always read the labels and follow the directions before using a cough suppressant for your cold.
    • Children under six should not use cough suppressants.
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    Take a decongestant. Congestion is no fun, and it may even cause your ears to ache as well. Decongestants and decongestant sprays can help relieve the pressure and swelling in your sinuses. They are usually available at your drug or grocery store over-the-counter.
    • Decongestants should be used sparingly and for no more than three days. Otherwise, your symptoms can become worse.
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    Use throat spray. There are probably sprays available at your local drug or grocery store that will numb your throat if it is sore. These work temporarily and will ease the symptoms you have. They can have a strong taste, though, and some people do not like the feeling of numbness these sprays cause.

Part 3
Preventing Complications

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    Blow your nose correctly. To blow your nose, cover one nostril and blow out into a tissue with the other. Do this gently. When you have a cold, you need to blow your nose regularly to get excess mucus out of your body.
    • Don’t blow too hard because this can push mucus into your ear passages or further into your sinuses.[11]
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    Get comfortable. You shouldn’t go to work or school when you have a cold to avoid spreading it anyway. You might as well take the opportunity to curl up in your bed and focus on getting better. Put on your pajamas and relax. Your body needs rest to recover and you need to de-stress so your body has the energy it needs to heal.
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    Go to sleep. If you get less than five or six hours of sleep, you may be four times more likely to get a cold in the first place.[12] Your body really needs the time to rest and rejuvenate that sleep provides, especially when you are fighting off a cold. So, get some cozy pillows and blankets, close your eyes, and drift off to dreamland.
    • Sleep in layers if your temperature fluctuates so that you can remove or add blankets depending on how you feel.
    • You can add an extra pillow to elevate your head, which might help with coughing and post-nasal drip.
    • Keep a box of tissues along with a trash bin or bag near your bed. This way you can blow your nose and throw out tissues whenever you need to.
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    Avoid excess stimulation. Computers and video games can be very stimulating with their lights, sounds, and so much information that you need to process. These devices can keep you awake and make it difficult to fall asleep. Using electronics and even reading too long may contribute to eye strain or headaches — the last thing you need when you already feel bad.
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    Drink plenty of liquids. Your body produces a lot of mucus when you have a cold. Mucus requires a lot of fluids. When you drink more fluid, it thins out your mucus so you can get rid of it easier.
    • Limit caffeine intake when you have a cold because it can really dry you out.
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    Avoid citrus. The acids in citrus juices like orange juice can make your cough worse. It may be irritating to your already sensitive throat. Find another way to hydrate and get vitamin C.[13]
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    Adjust your room temperature. You want your room to be warm but not hot. When you are cold or hot, your body diverts energy to try to warm you up or cool you down. So when you have a cold, you don’t want to get chilled or overheated. Your body needs to focus on fighting the viral infection and not on maintaining your body temperature.
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    Soothe chapped skin. Your nose skin can get irritated when you have a cold. This happens because you are blowing your nose so often. Some petroleum jelly dabbed under your nose or using tissues that contain a moisturizer of some sort can help.[14]
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    Avoid flying. When you have a cold, it is best not to fly in an airplane. The change in pressure can damage your eardrums when you are congested. Use a decongestant and saline nose spray if you don’t have any choice but to fly. Chewing gum can sometimes help while in the plane.
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    Avoid stress. Stress can make you more likely to get a cold and make the cold harder to get rid of. Stress hormones compromise your immune system so it can’t fight off illnesses as well. Stay away from nerve-racking situations, practice meditation, and take deep breaths.
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    Don’t drink alcohol. Though a little alcohol can help you get to sleep, too much will dehydrate you. It can also aggravate your symptoms and congestion. Alcohol is not good for your immune system and can have bad reactions with your over-the-counter medications.[15]
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    Don’t smoke. Smoke is not good for your respiratory system. It makes your congestion and coughing worse and can make it last longer too. Smoking also causes damage to your lungs so it’s harder to get rid of colds.
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    Eat healthy. Even though you’re sick, you still need the energy and nutrients to help your body get well. Eat a low-fat, high fiber diet with fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein. Try foods high in vitamin C and foods that can open up sinuses and break up mucus, like chilli peppers, mustard, and horseradish.[16]
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    Exercise. You already know that exercising keeps your body healthy, but it can also make your cold pass more quickly. If you just have a cold, exercise is probably fine. However, if you have a higher fever, feel very achy or weak then you should rest instead.[17]
    • Scale back or eliminate the exercise program if it makes you cold feel worse.
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    Prevent reinfection and spreading the virus. Stay home and get over your cold and try not to be around people. Be sure to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and try to use the inside of your elbow instead of your hands. Also, wash your hands a lot or use hand sanitizers.
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    Let your cold run its course. Your symptoms are all part of your body’s way of getting rid of the virus. Fevers, for example, help to destroy viruses and allow the virus-fighting proteins in your blood to circulate more effectively. For this reason, not using medications or other means to lower a moderate fever over a few days can mean that you get better faster.[18]


  • Sometimes when you have a cold, you get a fever. Try putting a warm or cold washcloth on your forehead if this happens. If the fever persists take some aspirin or ibuprofen to help bring down your temperature and make you less achy.


  • If you have persistent high fever (over 101 degrees Fahrenheit), coughing that lasts longer than three weeks, have a chronic health condition or don’t seem to be getting better, consult with a doctor.
  • Follow up with your doctor if symptoms do not resolve in seven to 10 days
  • Know that some cold remedies can cause side effects or you may have an allergic reaction. These remedies can also affect other medications, so always ask your doctor before taking any supplements, herbs or medications.
  • If you have difficulty breathing, seek emergency help.

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Categories: Colds and Viruses