How to Treat a Cold

Three Methods:Decongest Your SinusesTake Care of YourselfBoost Your Immune System

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the common cold. Most colds will go away in 3-7 days, although some will last longer. Treatment of a cold is limited to symptomatic support, which can be effective in limiting its duration and potential complications. The following steps will help make a cold less uncomfortable.

Method 1
Decongest Your Sinuses

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    Blow your nose sparingly. Your natural instinct may be to blow your nose when it feels blocked, but the jury's still out on whether this is actually a good idea or not. Some studies have shown that forcefully blowing your nose can actually lead to a build-up of pressure and trapped mucus in your sinuses, which may become infected.[1] On the other hand, some experts claim that it is important to blow your nose when you're suffering from a cold, as this rids the body of surplus mucus, helping you to decongest.[2] As a compromise, try to only blow your nose when absolutely necessary.
    • Whatever you believe, make sure to blow your nose gently to avoid excess pressure and use the recommended blowing method, which involves pressing one nostril shut with your finger, while blowing very gently to clear the other, then repeating on the other side.[2]
    • You should avoid sniffing and snuffling as much as possible, as this only draws the mucus back into your head.[2] If you have to be out of the house, be prepared and carry a handkerchief or tissues at all times.
    • You should always wash your hands after blowing your nose to prevent spreading the cold virus.
    • Frequent blowing can irritate your skin - use some soft, good quality handkerchiefs to avoid irritating your skin. Use moisturizer on your nose if you need to.
    • Avoid using paper tissues or Kleenex; they irritate your nose more than cloth handkerchiefs.
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    Drink honey and lemon tea. This is a simple yet effective cold relief remedy that has been around for a long time. To make the honey and lemon tea, boil some water, pour it into a mug, stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice and two teaspoons of honey. The honey will help soothe your sore throat, while the lemon helps to clear up a blocked nose. The vitamin C is also good for fighting infections generally.
    • The tea should take effect immediately and should ease cold symptoms for at least a few hours.
    • For optimum feel-good factor, drink this tea while curled up in a comfy chair in front of a roaring fire. You will feel a lot better very soon. Nasal virus thrive in cool temperatures, which is why they thrive in your nose out in the cold air or wind. Studies in Israel showed that breathing warm air reduced cold symptoms. Holding a warm hand over a cold nose for half an hour, breathing through the mouth, can also give the cold-loving virus a set-back.
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    Use a nasal decongestant. Nasal decongestants can provide immediate relief from congestion, by reducing inflammation of the nasal passages and slowing mucus production. Nasal decongestants are available in both tablet and sprays and are sold over-the-counter at most pharmacies.[3]
    • Just be aware that overuse of nasal decongestant sprays (over 3 to 5 days) can actually worsen mucus production, potentially trapping bacteria.[4]
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    Flush out your sinuses. One treatment for nasal decongestion which has become very popular in recent years is the practice of flushing out the sinuses with a Neti pot. The Neti pot contains a saline solution which is poured in one nostril and out the other. This thins the mucus in the nasal passages, allowing it to be flushed away. The saline solution can be purchased at most drug stores, or you can make your own.[5]
    • To use a Neti pot, lean over a sink and tilt your head to one side. Insert the spout of the pot into the nearest nostril and pour in the saline solution. The salty water should flow in one nostril and out the other. By reclining and tipping your head back, it can flow into sinuses too.
    • Once the water stops dripping, gently blow your nose, then repeat on the other side.[6]
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    Take an expectorant. Consider taking an expectorant medication which helps to clear decongestion by thinning mucous and loosening phlegm, freeing up your airways and allowing you to breathe more easily.[7]
    • Expectorants come in liquid, powder and capsule form and are available over-the-counter.
    • Side effects of expectorants include nausea, dizziness, drowsiness and vomiting. If you experience any of these symptoms you should contact your doctor immediately.[7]
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    Use essential oils. Essential oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus, clove and tea tree oil can help to clear the nasal passages and make breathing easier. There are several ways you can use essential oils. One way is to add a drop or two of your chosen essential oil to a bowl of warm water. Soak a clean face cloth in the water, wring it out, then use it to cover your face and let it sit there for a couple of minutes. Try to inhale deeply and you should feel a noticed improvement in your breathing in just a couple of minutes.
    • You can also mix a drop or two of essential oil into a little petroleum jelly to make your own vapor rub to massage onto your chest or feet before bed.
    • Alternatively, you can add a drop or two to your pajamas or to a hot bath, making it easy to inhale the vapors.
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    Take a hot bath or shower. The steam from the hot water will help to clear your nasal passages, while also encouraging relaxation. If the heat leaves you feeling a little dizzy, consider putting a plastic chair or stool in the shower.
    • If you have long hair, use a blow dryer to minimize losing your body heat after the fact.

Method 2
Take Care of Yourself

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    Take some time off. Try taking two to three days off from school or work. This helps limit other people's exposure to the virus and also helps you conserve energy to fight off the illness. Staying at home will save you the discomfort of being sick in a place of productivity and give you easy access to all the blankets, hot drinks and other comforts that you'll need to get well again. Also there's less chance of you catching any other illnesses, which is especially important when your immune system has already taken a blow.
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    Drink enough warm fluids. Staying hydrated will reduce the effects of many symptoms such as headaches and sore throat, while also preventing dehydration. Hot teas and soups are a good way to increase your liquid intake, while also helping to relieve sinus congestion and reduce inflammation in the nose and throat.[8]
    • Drink enough fluids to quench thirst. Getting enough fluids when you're sick is important, but getting too many may actually force your liver and kidney to work overtime in order to process it.[9] Drink a little more than normal when you're sick, but don't feel like you need to drink 12 or 15 glasses a day.
    • A good indication that you are drinking enough fluids is that your urine will be almost clear.[10] The deeper yellows imply higher concentrations of waste in your body that are not dissolving and diluting enough - so raise your fluid intake.
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    Get extra rest. Your body needs all of its resources to fight the cold virus.[11] If you do not give your body the rest it needs, you will do nothing but make yourself feel worse. Take frequent naps and don't overexert yourself with physical activity. Try to keep your head raised while sleeping, as this will assist with the drainage of your nasal passages.[2]
    • Try propping your head up with an extra pillow or cushion in bed - even if it feels a little strange. If your head feels like it's at a funny angle, try placing the second pillow between the sheet and the mattress, or under the mattress itself, so it feels less noticeable.
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    Gargle with warm salt water and baking soda. Gargling salt water helps to moisten the throat and fight infection, as salt is a natural antiseptic. Try adding a teaspoon of salt to a glass of warm water and stir to dissolve. You can add a little baking soda to help take the "zing" from the salt away. Gargle this solution up to four times a day to temporarily relieve a sore throat. [12]
    • Just make sure the water is not too salty or that you don't do this too often or it could dry out your throat and make symptoms worse. If it's too salty, it will really hurt delicate membranes, your clue to add more water to the mix. Some pain, about as much as getting any water up your nose, is to be expected.
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    Turn on a humidifier or vaporizer. Using either a humidifier or vaporizer in the room you are resting in can make you more comfortable by keeping the air moist.[13] This is especially helpful if your nasal passages or throat are dry and irritated. Keep in mind that although humidifiers might help soothe your throat, they probably don't help relieve cold symptoms or shorten the duration of the cold.
    • Some studies have suggested that humidifiers and vaporizers may do more harm than good. That's because humidifiers can spread pathogens, mold, and toxins, in addition to causing nasty burns. Use your own judgement to decide if using a humidifier is right for you.[14]
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    Stay warm. It is important to stay warm during your illness, as a cold can leave you feeling weak and shivery. Wear plenty of layers during the day and cover up with extra blankets when sleeping or resting in bed or on the sofa. Staying warm will not get rid of a cold, but it will help you to feel more comfortable.
    • It is a long-standing idea that you can "sweat out a cold", but there is little scientific evidence to back this up. Although many runners swear a good run early in the symptoms and the cold never happens.
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    Take over-the-counter cold remedies. These medicines cannot cure a cold, but they can certainly help to relieve symptoms such as headaches, congestion, fever and sore throat. Just be aware that all over-the-counter cold medications have common side effects including nausea, upset stomach, and dizziness. Make sure that you understand the risks associated with any medication you take and consult your doctor if you are currently taking prescription medications for other conditions.
    • Analgesics (pain killers), including acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen, may be helpful if your cold is accompanied by muscle aches, headaches or fever.[15] Do not give aspirin to children or teenagers because it is linked to Reye's syndrome.[16]
    • Antihistamines are a common ingredient in many OTC cold and allergy medications, and help to control runny nose and watery eyes.
    • Cough suppressants, also known as antitussives, stop the body's reflex to cough. Only take them when your cough is dry and non-productive.[17] A productive cough that helps your body eliminate mucus is good and should not be suppressed. Do not give OTC cough medications to children under 4 years old.
    • Only take over-the-counter medications that contain decongestants if your nasal passage is swollen, making it hard to breathe. They shrink the blood vessels in your nose to open your airway. Antihistamines can make you more comfortable, and will also make you drowsy so you sleep better while ill.
    • Thin the mucus from your cold with an expectorant so that you can cough it out if it is too thick or heavy to move.
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    Avoid smoking. Tobacco use can temporally weaken the immune system[18] and increase the severity of many cold symptoms. You should also avoid coffee, caffeinated tea, and soda.
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    Eat chicken soup. There has been some scientific evidence to suggest that chicken soup slows down the movement of certain white blood cells which cause the symptoms of a cold.[19] Additionally, the hot liquid from the soup may help clear the nasal passages and soothe your throat.
    • You should also consider adding a dash of red cayenne pepper to your soup as the heat from the spice will help to clear your head.

Method 3
Boost Your Immune System

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    Take a supplement. Taking a supplement packed with essential vitamins and nutrients is an easy way to boost your immune system. You can take individual supplements such as a vitamin C or zinc tablets, or you can find a multivitamin which has everything in one. If you're not a fan of fish, you can still get the benefits of all the essential fatty acids fish contains by taking an Omega-3 supplement, which has been proven effective in fortifying the immune system.
    • A large array of supplements can be found at drug stores, supermarkets and health food stores.
    • Taking an immune-boosting supplement probably won't get rid of your cold any faster, but it will help you to avoid getting sick again.
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    Eat garlic. Garlic promotes the well-being of the heart and immune systems with antioxidant properties and helps maintain healthy blood circulation.[20] One of garlic’s most potent health benefits includes the ability to enhance the body’s immune cell activity.[20]
    • Try crushing fresh garlic clove with a teaspoon of honey and quickly chew and swallow it.
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    Try zinc. New research suggests that if you start taking zinc within one day of getting symptoms, you will probably recover one day sooner than expected and experience less severe symptoms.[21][22]
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    Eat raw honey. Honey is a natural immune booster, which also contains anti-viral properties. It has the added bonus of being very soothing on a sore throat, which is great news for cold sufferers. You can eat a spoon of honey on its own, or stir it into hot water or tea to make a soothing drink.[23]
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    Get lots of vitamin C. Consider taking a vitamin C supplement, drinking orange juice and eating fruits with a high vitamin C content, such as oranges, kiwis and strawberries. Although the effectiveness of vitamin C in stopping colds is widely disputed, many vitamin C proponents advise the use of vitamin C daily to reduce the duration of a cold.[24][25][26]
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    Try echinacea. Echinacea is an herbal supplement which many claim as an effective immune booster and anti-viral. Although its cold-busting properties are disputed by experts, some studies claim that echinacea can both decrease the likelihood of developing a cold, while also reducing the duration of a cold.[27] Try taking a couple of capsules of echinacea as soon as you feel the first symptoms of a cold coming on.[23]
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    Take elderberry syrup. Elderberries are another great natural immune booster, so try taking a spoon of elderberry syrup - which can be found at most health food stores - every morning, or add just a few drops of elderberry extract to your morning juice.
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    Stop the spreading of pathogens.[28] Don't allow others to eat or drink from anything you have come in contact with, and change your pillow cases every day or two while you're feeling ill. This will limit your chances of spreading the infection, as well as help remove the pathogens from your environment.
    • Wash your hands after you blow your nose. While this will not help you, it will reduce the likelihood of the virus being transmitted to someone else.[29]
    • Avoid human contact as much as possible. During all stages of a cold, the cold virus (usually rhinoviruses, or coronaviruses) can be easily communicated to other people.[30] Staying home from work or school is the “nice” thing to do. If you must work, limit physical contact with people, try not to touch things and wash your hands often. This will lower your chances of getting sicker.


  • Take a hot bath/shower to clear runny noses for a period of time.
  • Sleep with extra pillows to prop your chest and head at a 45-degree angle if a stuffy nose or nasal drainage is keeping you awake at night.
  • If you feel like you have a really bad cold and are sneezing and/or coughing a lot, it is probably best to not to go to school or work. This will reduce the opportunity for the virus to spread itself to others and, because you can rest more, you are likely to recover a little more quickly.
  • Wash your hands after you sneeze.
  • Blow your nose regularly. Blowing your nose too much can make the outside lining of your nose dry and sore.
  • If your body temperature is too high, you'd better put a piece of wet cloth on your forehead. It helps to break your fever and makes you feel cooler.
  • Eat candy or fruit that is high in vitamin C.
  • Put some Vicks in a pan and pour boiling water in. Cover your head with a towel and lean over the pan. Although it will feel quite damp and hot, it will relieve congestion and if you have a fever it may also help to break your fever.
  • If you have a cold stay home from school and work so you avoid spreading the virus to other people.
  • If you have a cough at night, apply Vicks Vapour Rub to the bottom of your feet before bed, then put on socks.
  • Stay warm in bed or on the sofa with blankets or a duvet. However, don't overheat yourself, especially if you have a raised temperature, because this could make your symptoms worse..
  • Disinfect surfaces to avoid communicating the virus.
  • There is no clear proof that echinacea or vitamin C prevent colds. Nor is there proof that colds are caused by cold temperature or overheating.
  • Eat raw honey so your throat feels better.
  • Chew some sugar free chewing gum to ease a sore throat.
  • Put Vicks vapor rub, up your nose when you see signs of a cold. If you already have a stuffy nose, continue to put it up your nose every time it starts to get stuffy again.
  • If you have a cold and you're using a shared computer, wipe off the mouse and keyboard when getting off for a long period of time.
  • Drink hot tea.
  • Have honey and lemon drinks.
  • Also consider moving a lot. For example, running is a very good choice to keep your immune system up. This will also make you feel better.


  • If cold symptoms last more than 7 days consult your doctor, as you may have a more serious condition.
  • If you develop a fever in excess of 38 celsius (100 Fahrenheit), consult your doctor. High fever, and chills is an indication of influenza (the flu), a more serious illness.
  • As with any home remedy be sure to consult your doctor before consuming more than the RDA of vitamin C.
  • The FDA warns that Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Gel and Nasal Gel can lead to the loss/decrease of the sense of smell. These products have been voluntarily recalled. This warning does not apply to other Zicam products.

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