7 Feel Better Tips for the Cold and Flu


Sarah Lewis, PharmD

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There is no cure for colds or the flu. Viruses cause both illnesses, so antibiotics won’t work. You just have to give the infection time to run its course. And that usually takes 7 to 10 days. But that doesn’t mean you have to feel miserable. Over-the-counter medicines are an option for treating your symptoms. You can also try these tips to ease your symptoms and feel better.

1. Know the difference between a cold and the flu.

A cold and flu can have similar symptoms. But there are some differences. Cold symptoms tend to be milder, while flu symptoms can be severe. The flu is also more likely to start suddenly while you may feel a cold coming on before you actually have full-blown symptoms.

It’s important to know the difference between the two. If you suspect you have the flu, your doctor can start antiviral medicines. These prescription drugs reduce the length and severity of the flu. But they are most effective when you start them within 48 hours of becoming sick.

2. Choose the right drinks to replace fluids.

Staying hydrated is important when you have a cold or flu. Running a fever and producing excess mucus can drain you of fluids. Replace them with drinks that comfort you. Sipping hot tea will warm you up and soothe a sore throat. Sports drinks can replace electrolytes you lose through sweating. And ginger ale can help settle your stomach. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages that can make dehydration worse.

3. Heat up some chicken soup.

Moms have been using chicken soup for hundreds of years to treat colds and flus. The soup is comforting and gives you extra fluid with the broth. But it turns out there’s more to it than that. When chicken soup is made, it releases cysteine, an amino acid that thins mucus. And research suggests chicken soup blocks inflammatory cells, called neutrophils. These cells contribute to congestion in colds and the flu.

4. Wear layers of clothing.

When you’re fighting a fever, you can quickly go from freezing to hot and sweaty. Instead of burrowing under a big, thick comforter, use layers instead. Use a sheet and several lighter blankets so you can adjust the covers for your temperature. And dress in layers so you can shed outer garments quickly.

5. Breathe easier while you sleep.

Getting plenty of rest lets your body fight the virus and recover. But it can be challenging to get restful sleep when you can’t breathe through your nose. Try taking a hot shower before bed. The steam helps open and drain your nasal passages. Follow it with saline nasal spray. Then, set up a humidifier to keep moisture in the air all night long. And don’t forget an extra pillow to prop your upper body.

6. Avoid smoke and other airway irritants.

Smoke and other airway irritants—such as perfumes and cleaning sprays—can make your symptoms worse. They increase mucus production, irritate delicate mucus membranes, and trigger coughing. If you smoke, stop. And avoid secondhand smoke while you’re sick. The strategies for breathing easier while you sleep will also help if you have a cough.

7. Try vitamin C or echinacea.

Vitamin C and echinacea are popular natural cold remedies. The science behind them is mixed, with some studies showing positive effects and others showing none. With both of these, it probably doesn’t hurt to try them. They could reduce the severity or length of your cold if you start them right away. Echinacea can interact with other medicines, so talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re considering this remedy.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jul 14, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Colds and the Flu. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/colds-and-the-flu.html
  2. Common Cold. Nemours Foundation. http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/common/cold.html#
  3. What to Do If You Get the Flu. Nemours Foundation. http://kidshealth.org/teen/infections/colds_and_flu/flu_tips.html
  4. Colds and the Flu: Tips for Feeling Better. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2006/1001/p1179.html
  5. Cold Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't, What Can't Hurt. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/in-depth/cold-remedies/art-20046403
  6. Common Cold. Merck Manual Consumer Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/infections/viral-infections/common-cold

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