7 Treatments for the Common Cold

  • man-sleeping-on-side
    1. Get plenty of rest.
    Fighting the cold virus is a battle for your immune system and your body. Get plenty of rest so you have the energy you need to win the war and recover. Pushing yourself too hard or getting tired and rundown will make your immune system weaker. So listen to your body. Don’t feel guilty about skipping a workout or curling up on the couch for a couple of hours. It’s exactly what your body needs.

  • young man drinking water
    2. Drink lots of liquids.
    Running a fever and producing all that mucus can make you lose fluids. Loss of fluid can lead to dehydration and make your symptoms worse. Drink plenty of liquids to replace what you’re losing and prevent dehydration. Drinking liquids will also help loosen congestion in your nose, sinuses and chest. Water is the best choice, but juices, broth, and sports drinks are options. Sipping hot herbal tea has the added benefit of soothing your throat and warming you up. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks—they can make dehydration worse.

  • Ssalt on Spoon
    3. Gargle with salt water.
    A sore throat can make life miserable. It’s hard to eat, sleep, or even talk when it hurts every time you swallow. A simple remedy is gargling with salt water. Add ½ teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water. Stir until the salt dissolves. Then gargle and spit a mouthful at a time until the water is gone. You can repeat this every 3 to 4 hours.

  • lozenges
    4. Ease nasal congestion.
    There are several strategies for easing a stuffy nose. Decongestant nasal sprays are an option for adults, but kids shouldn’t use them. Instead, try saline sprays or drops to loosen mucus and keep it flowing. It is an inexpensive and surprisingly effective treatment. Warm or cold washcloth compresses can also help, as can adhesive nasal strips. Sucking on lozenges with menthol or eucalyptus is another way to open up nasal passages. And since congestion is worse when you’re lying down, use an extra pillow to prop yourself up at night.

  • humidifier-steam
    5. Use humidity.
    Adding moisture—or humidity—to the air can ease cold symptoms. You can do this with a humidifier or by taking a hot shower and breathing the steam. Moisture helps relieve chest and nasal congestion, making it easier to breathe. It keeps mucus loose, so you can cough it up or blow it out. It also keeps your airways from drying out. If you use a humidifier, be sure to clean it regularly as the manufacturer recommends. This prevents mold and bacterial contamination.

  • Epsom Salts
    6. Soothe aches and pains.
    Body aches and pains are common with a cold. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can help. They will also bring down a fever. But there are other strategies you can try to soothe your achiness. Take a warm bath—try adding Epsom salts—and let the heat relax your muscles. You can also use a heating pad for the same effect. Avoid using aspirin in children and teens due to the risk of Reye syndrome—a rare, but serious illness.

  • medicine aisle
    7. Try over-the-counter cold medicines.
    If your cold is severe, you may need to try some over-the-counter cold medicines. The two main types are decongestants and antihistamines. Decongestants relieve nasal congestion. Antihistamines combat sneezing, runny noses, and itchy, watery eyes. Combination products will do both. You may also need cough medicines and throat sprays or lozenges. Always read the labels to avoid doubling up on ingredients. And talk with the pharmacist if you need help choosing the right medicine for your symptoms.

7 Treatments for the Common Cold

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
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  5. Stuffy or Runny Nose—Adult, MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003049.htm
  6. Common Cold—How to Treat at Home. MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000466.htm
  7. Fed Up with Being Stuffed Up: Help for Nasal Congestion. Pharmacy Times. http://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2005/2005-10/2005-10-4925
  8. Common Cold. Merck Manual Consumer Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/infections/viral-infections/common-cold
  9. Goldman RD. Treating cough and cold: Guidance for caregivers of children and youth. Paediatr Child Health. 2011 Nov; 16(9): 564–566. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3223897/
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Last Review Date: 2019 Jul 17
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