Effective remedies for treating colds

The common cold is like the summertime blues—there ain't no cure—mostly because there aren't drugs (yet) that kill a wide range of viruses. For now, the best you can do is support your immune system, and possibly send your cold packing a day or so earlier.

Effective remedies for treating colds

The common cold

  • The old standbys of getting rest and plenty of fluids still hold true, and there are many simple steps you can take—from keeping a positive attitude and taking the right over-the-counter medication—to choosing immune-boosting foods and taking vitamins.
  • If your cold seems to worsen after a week or so, or if you feel symptoms developing in your lungs or sinuses, consider a visit to your doctor.


Always choose products that target only the symptoms you have. There’s no sense in taking a multisymptom medication unless you actually have everything it treats. Not only is it a waste of money, but it exposes you needlessly to potential side effects.

  • Aspirin or acet­­a­­minophen: For head­aches, muscle aches and to reduce a fever, you can take aspirin or acet­­a­­minophen. One caution: don't give aspirin products—the label may say "salicylate" or "salicylic acid"—to children who are under age 16 because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Reye’s syndrome is a rare, but potentially fatal, complication that may occur in children given ­aspirin to treat a cold.
  • Decongestants: If you have a stuffy nose, decongestants come in two forms: nasal and oral. Nasal decongestants (drops, sprays and inhalers) work fast, but have to be used frequently. And overuse can make your nose even stuffier—called the rebound effect. This is exactly what you don't want. Some oral decongestants have more side effects than drops and sprays, including insomnia, a sense of anxiety, a rapid heart rate and urinary retention in men with prostate problems. Antihistamines are not helpful because they dry up runny noses only in people with allergies, not those with colds.
  • Cough suppressant with DM: If you have a dry, nagging cough, try a cough suppressant with DM (for dextromethorphan) on the label. A suppressant is especially good at bedtime to help you sleep without coughing. Though it may be unpleasant, your cough helps clear mucus from your throat.
  • Expectorants: You should use an expectorant if your cold develops into a more serious bronchial infection—usually characterized by a yellowish or greenish mucus—as opposed to the clear mucus that comes with a cold.
  • Saline nose drops or nasal wash: These natural remedies can also can offer relief from congestion.

Lifestyle changes

  • Rest: You've heard it before, but if you have a cold, getting some needed rest is probably the single most important thing you can do to help your body get over the infection.
  • Drink fluids: Water is best, and steaming hot liquids—chicken soup, herbal teas—can help clear your nose and soothe your throat. Avoid alcohol and coffee while you're sick; they dehydrate you.
  • Use a humidifier: Inhaling moist air will open your airways and help you breathe easier.
  • Gargle with warm salt water: This is a good way to take the "ouch" out of sore throats caused by colds. Try to gargle several times a day.
  • Keep it clean: If anyone in your family has a cold, use a virus-killing disinfectant to wipe off kitchen counters and other surfaces you're likely to touch. Or make your own disinfectant by mixing one part bleach with 10 parts water.
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