Cold & Flu
6 Natural Remedies for Cold & Flu Season
Aimee Dansereau - December 26, 2012
Cold and flu season has arrived. And if you’re going to make it through the season without getting sick, or at least aim to reduce the amount of time you spend being sick, you’ll need to be prepared. Here are a few helpful items (and tips) to add to your arsenal of natural remedies:
Nucleotides – They are the building blocks from which RNA and DNA are made. They boost the immunity, heal damaged cell tissue, promote the growth of new cells, and improve circulation. If you’re lucky enough to take them as soon as you feel a tickle in your throat, you might actually have a chance of avoiding the cold or flu altogether. But if a cold has had a chance to become full-blown, you may need something more.
When you’re sick, it is always good to cut out dairy, especially if you’re producing a lot of mucus. Dairy enhances the production of mucus.
Tulsi tea – One winter, many years ago, I came down with a really bad cold. I was sick for 2-3 weeks, and I was unable to kick it. It was turning into bronchitis. Coincidentally, I had a Panchakarma (an Ayurvedic detoxifying and rejuvenation treatment that consists of five therapies) scheduled. I figured the Panchakarma would definitely help me to get rid of my cold. I arrived early, and had to wait for my appointment to begin. I rested in a room and was given Tulsi tea to drink. After a couple hours of being in the room and drinking Tulsi tea, I felt way better than I had in weeks—at least 50% better. Panchakarma – Panchakarma is an Ayurvedic detoxifying and rejuvenation treatment that consists of five therapies. Panchakarma is known to alleviate many ailments: allergies, skin disorders, rheumatitis, high blood pressure, diabetes, back pain, arthritis, headaches, depression, the cold and flu, and more. As panchakarma helps to detox the body and its various organs, the body becomes stronger and healthier. When we are healthy, our immunity is stronger and we are less likely to become ill. Panchakarma helps us to get rid of viral infections by making our bodies strong enough to fight off colds and other infections. Just remember, Panchakarma can be a bit pricey (although it’s much less expensive in India), so if it’s beyond your price limit, you can always stick to the other remedies.
Home Remedies for Colds
With no cure in sight for the cold or the flu, over-the-counter treatments can at best bring symptom relief or shorten the duration of those symptoms. Or you can take the natural approach. WebMD explores some home remedies that may help you feel better along the way.
Remember, serious conditions can masquerade as the common cold and a mild infection can evolve into something more serious. If you have severe symptoms or are feeling sicker with each passing day, see a doctor.
Are cold symptoms making you feel miserable? Here are 12 cold remedies you can use right now -- at home -- to feel better.
Cold Remedy #1: Drink plenty of fluids to help break up your congestion.
Drinking water or juice will prevent dehydration and keep your throat moist. You should drink at least 8 to 10 eight-ounce glasses of water daily. Include fluids such as water, sports drinks, herbal teas, fruit drinks, or ginger ale. Your mother's chicken soup might help too! (Limit cola, coffee, and other drinks with caffeine because it acts like a diuretic and may dehydrate you.)
Cold Remedy #2: Inhale steam to ease your congestion and drippy nose.
Hold your head over a pot of boiling water and breathe through your nose. Be careful. If the steam burns your nose, breathe in more slowly. You can buy a humidifier, but the steam will be the same as the water on the stove. Moisture from a hot shower with the door closed, saline nasal spray, or a room humidifier is just as helpful to ease congestion.
Cold Remedy #3: Blow your nose often, but do it the proper way.
It's important to blow your nose regularly when you have a cold rather than sniffling mucus back into your head. But when you blow hard, pressure can carry germ-carrying phlegm back into your ear passages, causing earache. The best way to blow your nose is to press a finger over one nostril while you blow gently to clear the other.
Cold Remedy #4: Use saline nasal sprays or make your own salt water rinse to irrigate your nose. Salt-water rinsing helps break nasal congestion while also removing virus particles and bacteria from your nose. Here's a popular recipe:
Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water. Fill a bulb syringe with this mixture (or use a Neti pot, available at most health foods stores). Lean your head over a basin, and using the bulb syringe, gently squirt the salt water into your nose. Hold one nostril closed by applying light finger pressure while squirting the salt mixture into the other nostril. Let it drain. Repeat two to three times, and then treat the other nostril.
To avoid exposing yourself to other bacteria and infections, it's important to watch what you put in your nose. According to the CDC, if you are irrigating, flushing, or rinsing your sinuses, use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution. It’s also important to rinse the irrigation device after each use and leave open to air dry.
Note: Decongestant sprays can work wonders for reducing nasal swelling and congestion, but their power can have a price. If you use them for more than 3 days in a row, you may get symptom rebound -- meaning worse nasal swelling when the medication wears off.
Cold Remedy #5: Stay warm and rested.
Staying warm and resting when you first come down with a cold or the flu helps your body direct its energy toward the immune battle. This battle taxes the body. So give it a little help by lying down under a blanket to stay warm if necessary.
Cold Remedy #6: Gargle with warm salt water.
Gargling can moisten a sore or scratchy throat and bring temporary relief. Try a half teaspoon of salt dissolved in 8 ounces of warm water four times daily. To reduce the tickle in your throat, try an astringent gargle -- such as tea that contains tannin -- to tighten the membranes. Or use a thick, viscous gargle made with honey, popular in folk medicine. Steep one tablespoon of raspberry leaves or lemon juice in two cups of hot water; mix with one teaspoon of honey. Let the mixture cool to room temperature before gargling.
Cold Remedy #7: Drink hot liquids.
Hot liquids relieve nasal congestion, prevent dehydration, and soothe the uncomfortably inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat. 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 if you wish. Limit yourself to one. Too much alcohol inflames those membranes and is counterproductive.
Cold Remedy #8: Take a steamy shower.
Steamy showers moisturize your nasal passages and relax you. If you're dizzy from the flu, run a steamy shower while you sit on a chair nearby and take a sponge bath.
Cold Remedy #9: Try 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.
Cold Remedy #10: Apply hot packs around your congested sinuses.
You can buy reusable hot packs at a drugstore. Or make your own. Take a damp washcloth and heat it for 30 seconds in a microwave. (Test the temperature first to make sure it's right for you.)
*Apply Hot or Cold Packs Around Your Congested Sinuses
Either temperature may help you feel more comfortable. You can buy reusable hot or cold packs at a drugstore. Or make your own. Take a damp washcloth and heat it for 55 seconds in a microwave (test the temperature first to make sure it's not scalding). Or take a small bag of frozen peas to use as a cold pack.
Cold Remedy #11: Sleep with an extra pillow under your head.
This will help relieve congested nasal passages. If the angle is too awkward, try placing the pillows between the mattress and the box springs to create a more gradual slope.
Cold Remedy #12: Learn about natural remedies like zinc, echinacea, and vitamin C.
People looking for natural cold remedies often turn to supplements. Many of these remedies have not been shown to help and some hurt.
Zinc: While early studies showed that zinc could help fight off a cold more quickly, the latest consensus seems to be that zinc has a minimal benefit at best. According to the Food and Drug Administration, zinc nasal spray can cause permanent loss of smell.
Echinacea: While echinacea was once a very popular cold remedy, the latest science indicates that it does not appear to prevent colds and is not an effective treatment. Researchers are continuing to study echinacea’s effects on respiratory infections to determine if there is some benefit. People with asthma may make their asthma worse with medications like Echinacea.
Vitamin C: What about vitamin C? In a recent review of prior studies, researchers found limited evidence that vitamin C prevented or treated colds. Popping vitamin C won't help you avoid a cold, but research suggests it may help make your next one a little shorter. Go easy though. Too much of the supplement taken for too long can lead to diarrhea or stomach cramps. Aim for no more than 2,000 mg a day. People with a history of kidney stones should talk to their doctor before taking vitamin C.
Good To Know:
Don't Fly Unless Necessary
There's no point adding stress to your already stressed-out upper respiratory system, and that's what the change in air pressure will do. Flying with cold or flu congestion can hurt your eardrums as a result of pressure changes during takeoff and landing. If you must fly, use a decongestant and carry a nasal spray with you to use just before takeoff and landing. Chewing gum and swallowing frequently can also help relieve pressure.
Regular exercise keeps your immune system strong, and can help you avoid coming down with the flu. It may even help shorten your down time once you're sick. It's OK to exercise when you have a cold. But if your symptoms include a fever, all-over body aches, or a headache, you have the flu and bed rest is important to help you get well. Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
A dry, hacking cough can be one of the worst symptoms of a cold or the flu, but fortunately there are many ways to calm it. Over-the-counter medicines can help suppress a cough, while a humidifier and gargling give much-needed moisture. A bonus to gargling warm salt water: It may help reduce inflammation and make a sore throat feel better.
One of the last things you want to do when you have a cold or the flu is irritate your already-irritating cough. You need to stay well-hydrated when you're sick, but you may want to take a pass on citrus juices if you have a cough. While the vitamin C is good for your body, the acids in citrus can make your cough symptoms worse.
Simple foods such as tea and soup help keep your strength up when you're sick, and both may offer much-needed symptom relief. The steam from tea or soup can help clear nasal passages. Both keep you hydrated, and both help relieve a sore throat. A bonus: Some research suggests chicken soup may even reduce inflammation.
A lukewarm bath or sponge bath may help lower a fever when you're flu-ish. But get out of the bath if you start to shiver. If the water isn't warm enough, that can make your fever worse. You can also reduce a fever by increasing fluids, removing extra clothes, and taking fever-reducing medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Be sure to read the label because cold medicines might also have these ingredients. If your fever stays above 103 F longer than two hours after treatment, or if your fever lasts longer than two days, call your doctor right away.
Your nasal discharge can be yellow, white, or even greenish when you have a cold or the flu. You'll want to talk to your doctor about a possible sinus infection if discharge has pus, lasts more than a week, or if you have face or tooth pain for longer than a week -- especially if it's on one side.
You can pass the flu along before you even know you have it. You may be contagious with the flu up to a day before symptoms first appear and remain contagious for as many as five days after. Children can be contagious for a week or more.