How to treat a cold or flu at home

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Viruses are responsible for colds and flu, so antibiotics are not able to cure or prevent these illnesses. Plenty of rest, fluids, and home remedies can help relieve symptoms.

Colds and the flu are common illnesses that can cause many uncomfortable symptoms, such as:

The following home remedies may help prevent illness, reduce symptoms, and shorten the duration of a cold or the flu:

1. Zinc

Studies suggest that zinc supplementation may help shorten the length of a cold and lessen symptoms.

Experts believe that this is because zinc prevents rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold, from replicating in the body.

People can take zinc as a tablet, lozenge, or syrup, but should always follow the dosage advice on the packaging. Too much zinc can cause nausea and stomach aches.

Zinc is available online and in pharmacies as a supplement or nasal spray. Using a zinc nasal spray can cause people to lose their sense of smell temporarily.

2. Honey

Honey has antimicrobial properties, which may allow it to fight some bacteria and viruses.

One study found that honey was effective in relieving coughing as a symptom of a cold in children over the age of 1 year. Children younger than 1 year should not have honey due to the risk of infant botulism.

People can try stirring some honey into hot water to soothe a sore throat or cough. Adding lemon provides extra flavor and vitamin C.

People can find honey in grocery stores, local markets, and online.

3. Echinacea

Some people use herbal extracts from the Echinacea plant to help prevent colds and relieve nasal symptoms.

Research has shown that components of Echinacea may support the immune system. Some have antiviral properties and may fight against flu viruses.

Research on the effectiveness of Echinacea in treating a cold has produced mixed results to date, with some studies showing no benefit.

Other studies have found that certain Echinacea products may reduce a person’s likelihood of getting a cold by 10–20 percent.

People can purchase Echinacea as a supplement or herbal tea.

4. Garlic

Garlic may help fight off a common cold because it has antibacterial and antiviral properties.

One study found that people who took a daily garlic supplement for 3 months had fewer colds than those in a placebo group.

Garlic has long been a home remedy for colds and the flu. People can eat raw garlic, incorporate cooked garlic into meals, or take a supplement. Unless a person has a garlic allergy, it is usually safe to use.

Fresh garlic is readily available in supermarkets. People who do not like the taste can purchase garlic supplements online.

5. Menthol

Blocked sinuses and congested airways are common symptoms of a cold, which menthol can help relieve. Menthol comes from many types of mint plant. It has antibacterial and pain-relieving effects and is an ingredient in many vapor rubs.

People can also add menthol to hot water for a steam inhalation. Although a 2013 study found that menthol inhalation helped reduce coughing due to environmental irritants, there is limited research on its effectiveness in clearing congested airways.

Other research found that vapor rub containing menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor significantly improved sleep in children and adults with cold symptoms. However, the researchers found that the risks could outweigh the benefits, as menthol can sting and irritate the skin.

6. Vitamin D

Vitamin D-3 may be a useful supplement to prevent or reduce the chances of getting a cold.

Research has found a link between vitamin D supplementation and a reduced frequency of colds in university students.

People living in colder climates may also find that a supplement boosts their vitamin D levels during the winter months, when their skin may not get much exposure to sunlight.

7. Oregano oil

Oregano contains thymol and carvacrol, which both have antibacterial effects. People traditionally use essential oils containing thymol to relieve headaches, diarrhea, and coughs.

People may find that taking oregano oil or rubbing it on the chest helps relieve cold symptoms.

8. Reducing stress and sleeping well

Stress or poor sleep may increase the risk of getting a cold or the flu.

One study suggests that lowering stress levels through mindfulness meditation practices or exercise reduces the risk of getting one of these illnesses.

People who participated in a mindfulness meditation or exercise program lost fewer work days due to illness than people in the control group.

A small study in 2015 also found that people who slept for fewer hours were more susceptible to colds.

9. Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria that support gut health and may help prevent people from getting colds or the flu.

Research has shown that probiotics can help protect the immune system against flu viruses. In a controlled trial, there were fewer instances of colds in people who were taking probiotics than in those who were not.

People can purchase probiotic supplements in health food stores or online. Probiotics are also present in many foods, including:

  • yogurt
  • sauerkraut
  • miso
  • tempeh

10. North American ginseng

Ginseng may help reduce symptoms of cold or flu, although studies have provided mixed results on its effectiveness.

Research on an herbal product containing North American ginseng found that it reduced the risk and duration of cold and flu symptoms in older adults.

People can consume raw ginseng or take it in the form of a capsule or herbal tea.

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