14 Home Remedies for Cold and Flu

By Robynn Lowe
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
June 21, 2022

There’s a reason why they call it the “common cold”—on average, adults experience 2-3 colds each year (and children have even more!).

The flu is also very common; an estimated 9-41 million people get sick with the flu every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Both the flu and the common cold are caused by viruses.

Influenza virus types A, V, and C cause the flu, while many viruses can cause a cold (with the most common type of virus to cause a cold being a rhinovirus).

Symptoms of the flu and cold can vary, but they most often include a fever, chills, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, muscle aches or body aches, headaches, and tiredness.

Though uncomfortable, most colds and flus can be treated at home and take just 7-10 days to resolve.

During that time, there are several home remedies that can help to ease your discomfort and soothe your symptoms.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Drinking plenty of fluids is important when you have a cold or flu and especially important if you have a fever, as it can help to prevent dehydration.

In addition to soothing a fever, drinking adequate fluids can help with other common cold and flu symptoms, such as a sore throat.

Types of fluids that are good to drink if you have a cold or flu include:

  • Water
  • Juice
  • Decaffeinated or non-caffeinated tea
  • Sports drinks

It’s important to avoid drinking caffeinated drinks, like coffees, teas, and some types of sodas, as these can contribute to dehydration. 

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Rest Up

Fighting a viral infection when you have a cold or flu can make your body feel tired and achy.

To help your body combat the underlying infection, it’s important to give yourself as much rest as needed. 

Staying home from work or school will also help you to prevent the spread of infection. But once you start to feel better, there’s no need to force rest or sleep.

Gargle With Salt Water

Dissolving one-half of a teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water several times a day may help relieve a sore or scratchy throat.

Gargling with honey and lemon may also help to soothe a sore throat

When combined with nasal irrigation, one randomized study suggests that gargling with salt water may also help to shorten the duration of illness and reduce the transmission and duration of certain symptoms associated with the common cold, including a runny nose. 

Use Saline Nasal Spray

Using a saline nasal spray can help to alleviate nasal congestion associated with the cold or flu and encourage virus particles and bacteria to flow from the nose. 

Try Herbal Tea

Herbal, non-caffeinated teas can soothe several of the symptoms associated with the flu or common cold, especially a sore throat and nasal congestion.

Take a Steamy Shower

Taking a warm or hot shower will help to moisten and relax your nasal passages, relieving congestion and runny nose.

The steam from the shower can also soothe a sore throat and body aches.

Use a Humidifier

Using a humidifier can also help to increase the humidity and moisture in your environment, which can mitigate several cold and flu symptoms, such as runny nose, nasal congestion, and dry cough

Increase Vitamin C Consumption

Vitamin C is an essential vitamin found in citrus and other fruits and vegetables.

Double Nobel laureate Linus Pauling was one of the first to espouse the benefits of vitamin C at preventing and treating colds and other diseases in the 1970s. 

Unfortunately, trials with more than 3,000 patients examining vitamin C for the treatment of the common cold found no clear benefit.

However, loading up on rich sources of vitamin C regularly, such as by consuming fruits and vegetables, can help to support your immune system and overall health in the long run.  

Eat Chicken Soup

Drinking chicken soup and other clear broths and soups can help you stay hydrated and get important vitamins and minerals when you’re not feeling well.

One in-vitro study found that chicken soup may also help to slow the movement of neutrophils, infection-fighting white blood cells that work more effectively to heal the body when moving slowly.

Take OTC Medication

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin can help to lower a fever and soothe body aches, sore throat, and other symptoms. 

Keep in mind that it may take between 30-45 minutes for the medication to start working and it’s important not to exceed the recommended dosage in a 24-hour period (these medications are also not recommended for children under the age of six). 

Importantly, if you have a cold rather than a flu, aspirin is not recommended.

You should also read labels if you are taking any commercially prepared cold or flu products as they often contain these medications. 

Use a Neti Pot

A neti pot and other products designed for nasal irrigation (including nasal irrigation kits) can help moisten your nasal passages and alleviate nasal congestion, sore throat, and a runny nose. 

These products often use a saline or saltwater solution that is then squeezed or poured into one nostril while your head is tilted.

As you irrigate your passages with your head tilted, the solution will exit through the other nostril. 

When using a neti pot or nasal irrigation kit, you should pour half of the solution through each nostril.

It’s also important to use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water and to follow the instructions included, including cleaning and drying your pot or device between uses.

Try Echinacea Tea

Echinacea is an herb that can be found in teas, lozenges, and other OTC supplements. Unfortunately, echinacea has not been proven to treat a cold or flu.

However, drinking echinacea tea may still provide some soothing relief if you have a sore throat. 

Consume Honey

Evidence suggests that a single nighttime dose of honey may help to reduce the severity of cough and improve sleep in children with the common cold.

In adults, drinking tea with honey or consuming lozenges with honey may also help to soothe a sore throat.

Take a Zinc Supplement

Though the evidence is inconsistent, findings from a meta-analysis suggest that orally administered zinc can reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms in adults.

Specifically, a 23mg zinc gluconate lozenge taken every two hours may help to reduce the duration and severity of the common cold in adults.

Importantly, oral zinc lozenges in children were not associated with as significant a benefit. 

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When To See a Medical Professional

Most colds and flus can be treated at home. But if you’re experiencing a fever of 103°F or higher, reach out to your healthcare provider or seek emergency care. 

Additional symptoms that warrant more immediate medical attention are:

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How do you get rid of a cold overnight?
Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to get rid of a cold overnight. If you’re fighting a cold, getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of non-caffeinated fluids is an excellent way to help your body fight the infection. Depending on your symptoms, you may also want to take over-the-counter (OTC) medication to relieve a fever or body and muscle aches.
What is the quickest home remedy for a cold?
Getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids are two of the most important remedies for a cold. Other home remedies, including gargling with salt water, using a saline nasal spray, or taking a zinc lozenge every two hours, may also help to reduce your symptom severity and duration.
What is the best natural remedy for a cold?
Symptoms of a cold can vary from person to person and not every home or natural remedy will have the same effect on someone with a cold. Still, there are several things that are important and can help support recovery from a cold, including getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of non-caffeinated fluids, and taking zinc lozenges.

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.

Robynn Lowe

Robynn Lowe is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years in the medical field. Robynn received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Florida Atlantic University and has been practicing in rural family medicine since. Robynn is married to her college sweetheart, Raymond and they have three awesome children. When Robynn isn't with patients you can find her shopping, coaching her kids sports teams, or spending time on the water.

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