Is it a common cold or the flu? If your symptoms are above the neck—congestion, sore throat, sneezing, coughing—you probably have a cold. If you have all those symptoms plus a fever of 102˚F or more, headache, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, you’re more likely to have the flu.
What You can Do for Colds and Flu
• For a sore throat remedy, fill a glass with warm water, mix in one teaspoon of salt and gargle away. The salt really does soothe the pain.
• Add a squeeze of lemon juice to a glass of warm water for the more traditional sore throat gargle. This creates an acidic environment that’s hostile to bacteria and viruses.
• Chicken soup is a time-honored remedy that is tried, tested, and true. Chicken soup stops certain white blood cells (neutrophils) from congregating and causing inflammation, preventing large amounts of mucus from being produced. The hot soup also thins the mucus. Adding freshly chopped garlic to your soup gives the system a powerful boost. While garlic kills germs outright, it also appears to stimulate the release of natural killer cells, which are part of the immune system’s arsenal of germ-fighters. Spike your soup with red (chili) pepper flakes to increase the broth’s decongestant power.
• Drink as much water as you can—eight or more glasses—to keep mucous membranes moist and to help relieve dry eyes and other common flu symptoms. Fluids also help thin mucus so that it’s easier to expel.
• To help keep mucus loose, stay in a moist, warm, well-ventilated room. To keep the air in your bedroom moist, place bowls of water near the air ducts or run a humidifier.
• Cut short your cold with a blow-dryer. As outlandish as it sounds, inhaling heated air may help kill a virus working its way up your nose. Set your hair dryer on warm (not hot), hold it at least 18 in from your face, and breathe in the air through your nose for as long as you can—at least two or three minutes—preferably 20 minutes.
• Wear wet socks to bed. Believe it or not, this soggy strategy can help ease a fever and clear congestion by drawing blood to the feet, which dramatically increases blood circulation. (Blood stagnates in areas of greatest congestion.) Best method: Warm your feet in hot water. Then soak a thin pair of cotton socks in cold water, wring them out and slip them on just before going to bed. Put a pair of dry wool socks over the wet ones. The wet socks should be warm and dry in the morning, and you should feel markedly better.
• Try soaking your feet in a mustard footbath. In a basin, mix 1 tablespoon of mustard powder in 1 L of hot water. The mustard draws blood to your feet, which helps to relieve congestion.
• Another oldie: try a mustard plaster for chest congestion. Grind up three tablespoons of mustard seeds, add water to make a paste, and then slather it on your chest. The pungent aroma helps to unclog stuffy sinuses, while the heat improves blood circulation and eases congestion. Don’t leave the plaster on for more than 15 minutes, however, or your skin may burn. You may want to smear on a bit of petroleum jelly before you apply the plaster to protect the skin.
• Breathe easy with steam. Pour just-boiled water into a large bowl. Drape a towel over the top of your head to trap the steam, and breathe in through your nose for five to 10 minutes. Don’t lower your face too close to the water or you risk scalding your skin or inhaling vapors that are too hot. To make steam inhalations more effective, add five to 10 drops thyme oil or eucalyptus oil to the water. Keep your eyes closed as you breathe in the steam, since both essential oils and steam may irritate your eyes. On the go? Dab a few tissues with eucalyptus oil and hold them under your nose whenever you feel congested.
A Natural Boost for Colds and Flu
• At the first hint of a cold, suck on a zinc gluconate lozenge every few hours. Don’t take zinc gluconate longer than a week, though, because excessive zinc can actually weaken immunity. Avoid zinc lozenges that contain citric acid or are sweetened with sorbitol or mannitol; these ingredients seem to weaken the mineral’s effectiveness.
• As soon as you notice cold or flu symptoms, start taking 500 mg of vitamin C four to six times a day. If you develop diarrhea, cut down on the dose.
• Take one 250 mg astragalus capsule, twice daily, until you’re better. This ancient Chinese herb stimulates the immune system and seems to be highly effective at fighting colds and flu. To prevent a relapse, take one capsule twice a day for an additional week after your symptoms are gone.
• Goldenseal stimulates the immune system and has germ-fighting compounds that can kill viruses. As soon as you begin to feel sick, take 125 mg five times a day for five days.
• At the first sign of the flu, take 20 to 30 drops of elderberry tincture three or four times daily for three days. Elderberry has been used in Europe for centuries to fight viruses.
• Oscillococcinum, commonly called Oscillo, is widely recommended by naturopaths and herbalists to reduce the severity of flu symptoms. Be sure to use it within 12 to 48 hours of the first appearance of your symptoms. It comes in packages of three to six vials. Buy the three-vial pack and take one vial every six hours.
• A dose of garlic—a natural antiseptic—will do a job on those viruses. If you’re feeling very brave, hold a small clove or a half-clove of garlic in your mouth and breathe the fumes into your throat and lungs. If it gets too strong as the clove softens, just chew if up quickly into smaller pieces and swallow with water.
• For a serious congestion-busting blast, buy fresh horseradish or gingerroot, grate it and eat a small amount. To guard against upset stomach, wait until after a meal to try this.
• Drink a cup of ginger tea. Ginger helps block the production of substances that cause bronchial congestion and stuffiness, and it contains compounds call gingerols, which are natural cough suppressants.
• During cold and flu season, take 20 to 30 drops of Echinacea tincture in half-cup of water three times daily.
From 1,801 Home Remedies (Reader’s Digest)