Some cold and flu symptoms, like fever, coughing, and congestion, are your immune system’s way of fighting illness, and can be a helpful part of the healing process. For example, a fever kills viruses with high temperatures, so enduring a moderate fever for a day or two can get you better faster than if you suppress it with medication.
Likewise, coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose can also help you heal faster by clearing your airways of germ-ridden mucus. Therefore, holding off on the decongestants and cough suppressants may actually shorten the duration of your cold or flu. While being sick is no fun, sometimes the wisest choice is to let your body fight with its own natural resources.
Here are some things you can do to support your body in healing, and staying more comfortable while it does.
1. Get plenty of rest
The most important thing you can do is give your body the rest it needs to fight the infection and heal. Stay home from work and school (your colleagues will thank you for not spreading germs) and make sure you’re nice and warm. Use this time to curl up with a good book, movie, or series you’ve been meaning to catch up on.
2. Stay hydrated
Drinking water, tea, juices, clear broth, or warm lemon water with honey prevents dehydration and also helps dilute congestion and clear it. Stay away from alcohol, coffee, and sodas, as they can be dehydrating.
To help relieve a sore or scratchy throat, gargle half a teaspoon of salt dissolved in eight ounces of warm water several times a day. You can also gargle with honey dissolved in warm water, or some honey and lemon, for a soothing treat.
4. Keep the throat moist
Sucking on ice chips, popsicles, or mentholated cough drops may help relieve pain from a raw or sore throat. You can also try herbal and over-the-counter throat sprays to ease the pain.
Humid air can help loosen congestion and soothe a sore throat and nose. It also creates an inhospitable environment for influenza, which prefers a dry climate. A cool mist humidifier by your bed would help encourage moisture in the air. For extra benefit, try adding a few drops of eucalyptus or peppermint oil to the water to clear your sinuses. It’s important to note that the water used in humidifiers should be changed daily to avoid mold and fungi from growing. If you don’t have a humidifier, take a hot steamy shower to moisturize your dry air passages and ease any muscular aches from the flu. If you feel weak or dizzy from the flu, sit in the bathroom while a steamy shower runs.
6. Blow your nose
This might seem like a no-brainer, but blow your nose! Mucus is produced to help move germs out of the body, so it’s important to blow your nose regularly rather than sniffling mucus back. To avoid causing an earache by blowing too hard, try covering one nostril with a finger while gently blowing the other one. Same thing goes for not suppressing a sneeze – let it go!
7. Irrigate a stuffy nose with warm salt water
Rinsing with warm salt water can help loosen nasal congestion, and encourage virus particles and bacteria to flow from your nose. Neti pots are commonly used for this. A popular method: Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water. Tip your head to one side, and using a bulb syringe or a neti pot, pour water into one nostril. Hold the other nostril closed with light pressure from the outside of the nose. Then let the water drain out. Repeat two to three times, then treat the other nostril. You can also use over-the-counter saline nasal drops and sprays.
8. Warm bath
A warm bath can soothe the body aches that can accompany the flu. Baths are also surefire ways to relax and induce drowsiness to help you get that good night’s sleep that is so important to your immune system. Add Epsom salt and baking soda to your bath to further reduce body aches. A combination of tea tree, juniper, rosemary, thyme, orange, lavender, or eucalyptus essential oils may also be used to clear nasal passages.
9. Mentholated salve
Placing a small dab of salve with menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor under your nose may help open breathing passages and calm skin irritated from wiping and blowing. Spreading vapor rub on your chest would also help open airways, reduce coughing, and improve sleep.
10. Elevate your head
Sleeping with an extra pillow under your head while you’re congested will help to clear nasal passages by encouraging mucus to drain down. It can help you cough and sniffle less throughout the night.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.