So you didn’t listen to the experts and got a cold. If you want to get better fast, this is where you need to really pay attention. To start, don’t rush to the doctor, stop blowing your nose, and please, go back to bed. Got it? Good. Now follow these other proven remedies for your cold.

Don’t Rush to the Doctor

There’s nothing a physician can prescribe to cure a cold; they’re viral, and antibiotics are effective only against bacterial infections. Yet many will write a script for antibiotics anyway, says Jeffrey Linder, an internal medicine doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “You’re putting a chemical in your body that has virtually no chance of helping you and a very real chance of hurting you,” he says. Side effects of antibiotics include diarrhea, rashes, and an increased resistance to future doses of the drug.

Stop Blowing Your Nose So Hard

“It drives the virus farther up into your sinuses, which is the last thing you want,” says infectious-disease expert William Schaffner. Instead, press your finger against one nostril, blow the other gently, then switch. This also keeps nasal passages from getting inflamed. When you shower, turn up the water temp to allow steam to open up the passages, too. “Cup your hands full of water and inhale the mist into your nose,” Schaffner suggests. “This gets warm moisture up there to help with drainage.” A neti pot filled with warm water and a teaspoon of salt can also help irrigate the nasal passages, says family physician and alternative-medicine researcher Bruce Barrett. Use it twice a day.

Chicken Soup. Really. Here’s why.

This time-honored cold and flu remedy is actually backed by hard science. First and most important, chicken soup supplies fluids and electrolytes to help with hydration, says Dr. Evangeline Lausier of Duke Integrative Medicine. And because it’s broth-based and often includes rice or noodles, you get calories that are easily absorbed and metabolized and won’t further stress your gut, she adds. Even the meat helps — chicken and its broth are rich in the amino acid carnosine, which research shows lowers inflammation and inhibits the flu virus. Fresh herbs and spices pack in more healing power. “Garlic can help your body break down mucus, while ginger can relieve nausea if you have the flu,” Lausier says. And that steaming bowl could be even more effective if it is made by Mom (or a spouse or friend). Research has shown that when patients are doted on by a loved one, they really do improve more quickly.

Make Your Drinks Hot

You know to pound fluids when you’re sick — you’re sweating more (viruses raise body temperature) and losing fluids through a runny nose or constant sneezing. But all those drinks can be even more effective if served hot. Herbal teas or hot water with lemon or ginger may soothe irritated mucous membranes in the nose, throat, and gut. And it’s fine to add a comforting splash of something such as rum, Barrett says. Just avoid red wine and beer; these high-histamine alcohols may make your symptoms worse.


Battling a virus requires incredible metabolic energy. According to the doctors we consulted, every extra hour you spend sleeping, versus exerting yourself, will help you recover faster.

Don’t Dismiss Every Natural Remedy

Elderberry syrup, a centuries-old illness remedy, can shorten flu symptoms by four days, according to a 2004 study in The Journal of Dietary Supplements. As for traditional drugs, decongestants like Sudafed can offer temporary relief, but they won’t speed healing and may raise heart rate and blood pressure or cause insomnia, says Barrett. And beware of nasal sprays like Afrin, which can require a higher and higher dose to produce the same effect — and once you stop using it, you will be even more congested.


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