No one looks forward to sniffle season, and winter colds sneak up on the best of us each year. American adults catch an average of two to four colds per year, while young children can expect about six to eight bouts each year. Studies estimate the cost of lost productivity due to the common cold is roughly $25 billion annually, which is nothing to sneeze at!
Runny noses and sore throats are no fun, but the majority of common colds are usually harmless. An internist at Danbury Medical Group in Connecticut, Diane Wenick, MD, says common colds that stem from viruses can often be treated with holistic methods. “You don’t belong in a doctor’s office if you’re congested, you’re stuffy, and maybe have a low-grade temperature,” says Dr. Wenick, noting that patients don’t need a prescription for antibiotics unless a virus develops into a bacterial infection. Though, she does advise individuals see a medical doctor if they experience severe pain in the throat, ear or upper teeth.
We’re still waiting on a cure to beat the common cold, but in the meantime, you can help relieve some of the symptoms with a few of these easy, all-natural remedies. The best part: You won’t have to buy out the local pharmacy.
Cough and Sore Throat
Honey’s not just Winnie the Pooh-approved; research shows it can effectively soothe coughs. In a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, researchers found that children and adolescents sleep better and cough less when they received one or two teaspoons of honey. Rich in minerals, proteins and vitamins, honey is also known to be a good source of dietary antioxidants.
The Verdict: If you have a sore throat, drinking warm tea with honey can provide daytime or nighttime relief.
What to Do: Mix one or two teaspoons of honey into your favorite tea.
Rinse and Repeat
Flushing warm saline water into the nose using a nasal rinsing device like a neti pot, bulb syringe or squeeze bottle can thin out mucus and help reduce congestion. A study at University of Wisconsin found that symptoms of congestion and head pain improved by 30 to 40 percent. Nasal rinsing has been shown to help loosen thick mucus and can remove dirt or other debris. Dr. Wenick says to boil tap water to kill off bacteria and then cool until lukewarm so it doesn’t burn sensitive nasal passages. Also be careful not to confuse saline rinses with over-the-counter saline sprays and mists, which might loosen up mucus but will not force it out. Though the optimal amount of saline is unknown, 0.9 to three percent saline solutions are used most often.
The Verdict: Rinsing sinuses with saline water can help many individuals breathe freer.
What to Do: Make sure to use sterile water and thoroughly wash your hands before rinsing your nose over a sink. Tilt your head and remember to breathe as you pour or squirt water into one nostril. The water will drain naturally from your other nostril. Let your device air dry between uses, and to prevent spreading germs, avoid sharing devices with others.
Soup for the Soul
Fatigue can set in when cold fighters lose their appetite and don’t get enough protein, which is essential for a healthy immune system. If you’re feeling in the dumps, chicken soup is more than just comfort food; it can help you feel more energized. Dr. Ching Chen, FAAPMR, a licensed osteopathic medical doctor in New York City, says that chicken soup is an excellent source of vegetables and protein that’s easily digestible. “When you’re really sick, you’re not hungry because your body is stressed out,” she says. Eating more vegetables and eating cleaner can help get the body on the road to recovery, says Dr. Chen.
Researchers at Nebraska Medical Center have also found that traditional chicken soup has a mild anti-inflammatory effect, meaning it can help alleviate scratchy throats. Inhaling the steam keeps nasal passages moist, ingesting broth can help hydrate the body and research demonstrates that chicken soup can also decongest the nose by speeding up the movement of mucus. And according to a study published in Psychological Science, it can even make us feel happier!
The Verdict: Eating chicken soup can be an easy way to get the nutrients your body needs to fight off a virus. Mom’s seal of approval backed by science!
What to Do: If you don’t like the canned varieties, make a batch of homemade soup (like this easy recipe from Cooking With Jax) when you’re feeling healthy so you can simply heat and eat when you’re under the weather. We recommend using premade chicken broth, lots of veggies, small pasta noodles and boiled chicken or premade rotisserie chicken to get slurping faster.
Spirits to Lift Spirits
Alcohol has long been touted as a remedy for colds, but don’t go throwing back bourbon just yet. Since alcohol is a diuretic, it causes kidneys to produce more urine, which will block the release of a hormone necessary for water reabsorption. Too much alcohol can also dehydrate the body, which is less than ideal when you’re under the weather and should be drinking lots of fluids. Yet, many over-the-counter cough syrups do contain alcohol — some have up to 10 percent — because alcohol can take the edge off when your body’s in pain. Plus, having a bit of alcohol before bedtime will help you fall asleep. It’s especially important to get seven to eight hours of good rest each night when you’re sick since lack of sleep can slow down your recovery.
The Verdict: Mixing alcohol and medicine can put you at risk if you haven’t spoken with your doctor, but alcohol can provide some nighttime relief when taken in moderation.
What to Do: Mix one shot of whiskey or bourbon with tea, lemon and honey before bedtime for a traditional hot toddy. We recommend making herbal tea instead of caffeinated black tea because the caffeine will prevent you from getting the shuteye your body needs!
Have a go-to home remedy for when the sniffles strike? Tell us in the comments below!