Cold remedies: What works, what doesn't, what can't hurt
There's no cure for the common cold. But what about cold remedies that claim to make you feel better faster? Find out what's effective — and what's not.
There's no cure for the common cold. But what about cold remedies that claim to make you feel better faster? Find out what's effective — and what's not.By Mayo Clinic Staff
Cold remedies are almost as common as the common cold, but are they effective? Nothing can cure a cold. But some remedies might help ease your symptoms and keep you from feeling so miserable. Here's a look at some common cold remedies and what's known about them.
Cold remedies that work
If you catch a cold, you can expect to be sick for one to two weeks. That doesn't mean you have to be miserable. These remedies might help you feel better:
- Stay hydrated. Water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey helps loosen congestion and prevents dehydration. Avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas, which can make dehydration worse.
- Rest. Your body needs rest to heal.
Soothe a sore throat. A saltwater gargle — 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water — can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat. Children younger than 6 years are unlikely to be able to gargle properly.
You can also try ice chips, sore throat sprays, lozenges or hard candy. Use caution when giving lozenges or hard candy to children because they can choke on them. Don't give lozenges or hard candy to children younger than 6 years.
Combat stuffiness. Over-the-counter saline nasal drops and sprays can help relieve stuffiness and congestion.
In infants, experts recommend putting several saline drops into one nostril, then gently suctioning that nostril with a bulb syringe. To do this, squeeze the bulb, gently place the syringe tip in the nostril about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (about 6 to 12 millimeters), and slowly release the bulb. Saline nasal sprays may be used in older children.(Video) Cold remedies: What works and what doesn't?
Relieve pain. For children 6 months or younger, give only acetaminophen. For children older than 6 months, give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Ask your child's doctor for the correct dose for your child's age and weight.
Adults can take acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or aspirin.
Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 3, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children.
- Sip warm liquids. A cold remedy used in many cultures, taking in warm liquids, such as chicken soup, tea or warm apple juice, might be soothing and might ease congestion by increasing mucus flow.
- Try honey. Honey may help coughs in adults and children who are older than age 1. Try it in hot tea.
- Add moisture to the air. A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier can add moisture to your home, which might help loosen congestion. Change the water daily, and clean the unit according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Try over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medications. For adults and children age 5 and older, OTC decongestants, antihistamines and pain relievers might offer some symptom relief. However, they won't prevent a cold or shorten its duration, and most have some side effects.
Experts agree that these shouldn't be given to younger children. Overuse and misuse of these medications can cause serious damage. Talk with your child's doctor before giving any medications.
Take medications only as directed. Some cold remedies contain multiple ingredients, such as a decongestant plus a pain reliever, so read the labels of cold medications you take to make sure you're not taking too much of any medication.
Cold remedies that don't work
The list of ineffective cold remedies is long. Some of the more common ones that don't work include:
- Antibiotics. These attack bacteria, but they're no help against cold viruses. Avoid asking your doctor for antibiotics for a cold or using old antibiotics you have on hand. You won't get well any faster, and inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to the serious and growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- Over-the-counter cold and cough medications in young children. OTC cold and cough medications may cause serious and even life-threatening side effects in children. Talk with your child's doctor before giving any medications.
Cold remedies with conflicting evidence
In spite of ongoing studies, the scientific jury is still out on some popular cold remedies, such as vitamin C and echinacea. Here's an update on some common alternative remedies:
Vitamin C. It appears that taking vitamin C won't usually help the average person prevent colds.(Video) COLD REMEDIES: WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T?
However, some studies have found that taking vitamin C before cold symptoms start may shorten the length of time you have symptoms. Vitamin C may benefit people at high risk of colds due to frequent exposure — for example, children who attend group child care during the winter.
Echinacea. Study results on whether echinacea prevents or shortens colds are mixed. Some studies show no benefit. Others show some reduction in the severity and duration of cold symptoms when taken in the early stages of a cold. Different types of echinacea used in different studies may have contributed to the mixed results.
Echinacea seems to be most effective if you take it when you notice cold symptoms and continue it for seven to 10 days. It appears to be safe for healthy adults, but it can interact with many drugs. Check with your doctor before taking echinacea or any other supplement.
Zinc. Several studies have suggested that zinc supplements may reduce the length of a cold. But research has turned up mixed results about zinc and colds.
Some studies show that zinc lozenges or syrup reduce the length of a cold by about one day, especially when taken within 24 to 48 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold.
Zinc also has potentially harmful side effects. Talk to your doctor before considering the use of zinc to prevent or reduce the length of colds.
Take care of yourself
Although usually minor, colds can make you feel miserable. It's tempting to try the latest remedy, but the best thing you can do is take care of yourself. Rest, drink fluids and keep the air around you moist. Remember to wash your hands frequently.
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
June 03, 2022
- Common cold. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/for-patients/common-illnesses/colds.html. Accessed Feb. 20, 2020.
- Sexton DJ, et al. The common cold in adults: Treatment and prevention. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 20, 2020.
- Saper RJ. Clinical use of echinacea. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 20, 2020.
- Pappas DE. The common cold in children: Management and prevention. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 20, 2020.
- AskMayoExpert. Upper respiratory tract infection. Mayo Clinic; 2020.
- Echinacea. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- Vitamin C. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- Zinc. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- Drutz JE. Acute pharyngitis in children and adolescents: Symptomatic treatment. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases. Recommendations for prevention and control of influenza in children, 2017-2018. Pediatrics. 2017; doi:10.1542/peds.2017-2550.
- Sullivan JE, et al. Clinical report — Fever and antipyretic use in children. Pediatrics. 2011; doi:10.1542/peds.2010-3852. Reaffirmed July 2016.
- 314 labeling of drug preparations containing salicylates. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=76be002fc0488562bf61609b21a6b11e&mc=true&node=se21.4.201_1314&rgn=div8. Accessed Feb. 22, 2018.
- Renaud DL (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 27, 2018.
See more In-depth
Products and Services
- Book: Mayo Clinic Guide to Raising a Healthy Child
- Book: Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies
- A Flu Vaccination Information Hub
- Antibiotics: Are you misusing them?
- Avoid rebound nasal congestion
- Breastfeeding and medications
- Can chicken soup cure a cold?
- Chicken soup: Can it treat a cold?
- Cold and flu viruses: How long can they live outside the body?
- Cold or allergy: Which is it?
- Cold symptoms: Does drinking milk increase phlegm?
- Common cold
- COVID-19: How can I protect myself?
- Vitamin C and mood
- Does zinc work for colds?
- Exercise and illness
- Hand-washing tips
- Have a cold? Common sense rules
- Have a cold? Fight back with humidity
- Have a cold? Fight it with fluids
- Honey: An effective cough remedy?
- How well do you wash your hands?
- Humidifier care 101
- Is antibacterial soap a do or a don't?
- Nasal Cleaning
- Nasal congestion
- Neti pot: Can it clear your nose?
- Plugged ears: What is the remedy?
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose? Try saline spray
- Symptom Checker
- Vicks VapoRub: An effective nasal decongestant?
- Vitamin C: Can it prevent colds?
- Warm-mist versus cool-mist humidifier: Which is better for a cold?
- Watery eyes
- What is MERS-CoV?
- When to Take Your Child to the E.D.
- Do zinc supplements shorten colds?
How can I get rid of a cold in 24 hours naturally? ›
While the duration of your symptoms may vary, many people wonder how to cure a cold in 24 hours or even overnight. The best way to tame a cold fast is to stay home, rest, drink plenty of fluids, gargle with salt water, take an OTC medication, and humidify the air.What is not helpful for a common cold? ›
Antibiotics will not help with a cold. Antibiotics help with bacterial infections, not with viral infections such as colds. Most people who have a cold will feel better after a week or two. However, some people who get a cold may develop other illnesses, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.Which medicine is more effective for cold? ›
When you have a cold, your body makes chemicals called histamines. That leads to sneezing, a runny nose, and watery eyes. Over-the-counter antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine block this process and can relieve those symptoms. They can also make you sleepy and dry out your eyes, nose, and mouth.What are the 5 stages of a cold? ›
The stages of a cold include the incubation period, appearance of symptoms, remission, and recovery.Why can't I kick my cold? ›
You Aren't Getting Enough Rest
Sleep helps keep your immune system working like it should. Once you have a cold, you need to catch enough Zzz's to help your body fight off the virus. Take it extra easy during the first 3 days. Too little shut-eye can also make you more likely to get a cold.
In adults and older children, they usually last about 7 to 10 days, but can last longer. A cough in particular can last for two or three weeks. Colds tend to last longer in younger children who are under five, typically lasting around 10 to 14 days. Read more about colds in children.Does Emergen C work? ›
Although many people take Emergen-C to prevent or shorten a cold, the scientific evidence showing it works is minimal. If you're an athlete or physically active, this supplement's vitamin C may help prevent a cold.Does vitamin C help with colds? ›
Vitamin C does not prevent colds and only slightly reduces their length and severity. A 2013 review of scientific literature found that taking vitamin C regularly did not reduce the likelihood of getting a cold but was linked to small improvements in cold symptoms.What can make a cold worse? ›
- Pretending you're not sick. This never works. ...
- Not sleeping enough. Getting enough sleep is key for a healthy immune system. ...
- Getting stressed. ...
- Drinking too little. ...
- Drinking alcohol. ...
- Overusing decongestant sprays. ...
Can some colds be much worse than others? Yes, some colds can be worse than others. This depends on several things, including which virus is causing the cold, the person's age, how capable their immune system is of fighting the cold, and also if they have existing antibodies against that particular virus.
Can you stop a cold from getting worse? ›
Act Fast. If you can't hold off a cold, it'll take for 5-7 days for your symptoms to improve, Carstensen says. Getting an early jump on them on can help you manage them until you're well, she says. Start with over-the-counter medications like antihistamines with decongestants.How do you get rid of a cold in an hour? ›
There is no way to get rid of a cold fast. A cold will usually go away on its own without treatment. However, a person may experience uncomfortable symptoms while they recover. People can take steps to aid recovery, such as getting plenty of rest.What to eat when you have a cold? ›
Kale, broccoli, cranberries, green tea, red onions, blueberries: What do these have in common? All have an antioxidant called quercetin that may help you fight the common cold.What dries up a runny nose? ›
Antihistamines can treat an allergy-induced runny nose, reducing the allergic response and drying up mucus. Decongestants can ease the symptoms of a respiratory infection by restricting blood vessels and reducing the amount of mucus released.How do you know a cold is ending? ›
Within 7–10 days , people will usually start to recover from a cold. Symptoms begin to ease up, and people will start feeling better. People may also find that they have more energy and are more able to carry out tasks as usual.Does blowing your nose help get rid of a cold? ›
But in a new study, they have found that doing so may actually make a cold worse, because the blow propels mucus into the nasal sinuses. Blowing one's nose creates a significant amount of pressure, according to Jack M.Can you sweat out a cold? ›
You may have heard that it's beneficial to “sweat out a cold.” While exposure to heated air or exercise may help temporarily relieve symptoms, there's little evidence to suggest that they can help treat a cold.Why is my cold getting worse after 3 days? ›
If symptoms get worse, rather than better, after 3-7 days, you may have acquired a bacterial infection. These symptoms can also be caused by a cold virus other than a rhinovirus.Can your body naturally fight off a cold? ›
A cold will usually go away on its own without treatment. However, a person may experience uncomfortable symptoms while they recover. People can take steps to aid recovery, such as getting plenty of rest. Some studies suggest that vitamin C and echinacea may reduce the duration of a cold.Is taking a hot bath good for a cold? ›
Taking a hot shower or a bath can really help to quell your various pains. The warmth from the bath can help soothe your lungs, and the steam will moisturize your throat and nasal passages that have been dried out from your sickness.
How can you tell if a cold is viral or bacterial? ›
- symptoms last longer than 10 to 14 days.
- symptoms continue to get worse rather than improve over several days.
- you have a higher fever than normally observed with a cold.
There is no guarantee that zinc will help you feel better faster. In some studies, zinc did nothing to shorten how long people with colds felt bad. In other studies, zinc may have shortened symptoms by a few days. But the side effects from taking zinc can be uncomfortable or serious in some cases.Does Emergen-C work if you are already sick? ›
Emergen-C Daily Immune Support Drink
But if you already have a cold, it won't actually help shorten the duration of a cold very much (no cure exists for the common cold!) —maybe a day, tops, according to Harvard Health.
Vitamins C and D, zinc, and Echinacea have evidence-based efficacy on these immune system barriers.Does vitamin D help fight colds? ›
Taking vitamin D is not a guaranteed guard against the cold or flu. But vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and might give you a boost. Vitamin D: New studies suggest that people with low blood levels of vitamin D are more likely to get sick. Researchers think that vitamin D may play a role in boosting immunity.Can I take 2 Emergen-C packets a day? ›
It is much easier to see just how big of a dose these supplements provide. Airborne recommends taking no more than three tablets per day, but this is still over 3000% more vitamin C than you actually need. Emergen-C also cautions against using more than two packets.Does soup help with a cold? ›
The sodium in the recipe helps relieve sore throat pain (the same principle behind gargling warm salt water), the heat helps clear nasal congestion, and can relieve pain and sinus pressure. The vitamins and minerals in nutrient-dense soups can also speed recovery, Bailey adds.Does a fan make a cold worse? ›
Circulating air from a fan can dry out your mouth, nose, and throat. This could lead to an overproduction of mucus, which may cause headaches, a stuffy nose, sore throat, or even snoring. While a fan won't make you sick, it may worsen symptoms if you're already under the weather.What is the quickest way to get rid of cold symptoms? ›
- rest and sleep.
- drink plenty of water (fruit juice or squash mixed with water is OK) to avoid dehydration.
- gargle salt water to soothe a sore throat (not suitable for children)
The average cold lasts about three days to two weeks, so if your cough isn't going away, it could be because the cold medicine isn't cutting it. COVID-19, allergies, pneumonia, sinus infections and acute bronchitis can last for weeks—or sometimes months— rather than days.
Does ibuprofen prolong a cold? ›
Ibuprofen has little benefit for treating cold and flu, according to UK researchers who warn it may even prolong symptoms.What helps a stuffy nose? ›
- Use a humidifier or vaporizer.
- Take long showers or breathe in steam from a pot of warm (but not too hot) water.
- Drink lots of fluids. ...
- Use a nasal saline spray. ...
- Try a Neti pot, nasal irrigator, or bulb syringe. ...
- Use a micro-current wave device. ...
- Place a warm, wet towel on your face. ...
- Prop yourself up.
It's a myth!
Because oranges are rich in vitamin C, we believe – falsely – that eating them can help cure a cold. Let us be clear: after the onset of cold symptoms, eating oranges or drinking orange juice is not an effective treatment.
- 1 Caffeinated drinks and alcohol. Between elevated temperatures and increased sweating, dehydration is something to be cautious of when you have a fever. ...
- 2 Greasy foods. ...
- 3 Hard to digest grains. ...
- 4 Sugary food or drinks.
Food to Avoid
Also, try to avoid refined sugar as it is pro-inflammatory and increases the production of mucus. Other foods to avoid include tomatoes (contain histamines), chocolate, cheese, gluten, and fruits like bananas, which can cause congestion.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Drinking fluids and staying hydrated when dealing with a runny nose can be helpful if you also have symptoms of nasal congestion. ...
- Hot teas. ...
- Humidifier. ...
- Facial steam. ...
- Hot shower. ...
- Neti pot. ...
- Nasal spray. ...
- Warm compress.
Antihistamines counteract the effect of histamine throughout the body, and treat a range of symptoms including itching, hives, sneezing, and runny nose.How do you stop a stuffy nose at night? ›
- Take an antihistamine. ...
- Diffuse an essential oil in your bedroom. ...
- Use a humidifier in your bedroom. ...
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark. ...
- Apply a nasal strip. ...
- Apply an essential oil chest rub. ...
- Apply a menthol chest rub. ...
- Prop up your head so you remain elevated.
Your cold has become a sinus infection
If your cold symptoms haven't cleared up after 10 days, but instead persist without improvement, your cold may have morphed into a sinus infection. Sinus infections happen when fluid builds up in the air-filled pockets in the face (sinuses), which allows germs to grow.
Lifestyle factors, such as whether a person gets enough rest or whether they smoke cigarettes, can also help speed up or slow down recovery. Even after the virus is out of the body, some symptoms may linger. For example, stubborn mucus or a cough may last for another week or more after the infection clears up.
Is there anything to make a cold go away faster? ›
There is no way to get rid of a cold fast. A cold will usually go away on its own without treatment. However, a person may experience uncomfortable symptoms while they recover. People can take steps to aid recovery, such as getting plenty of rest.How long does a common cold last? ›
In adults and older children, they usually last about 7 to 10 days, but can last longer. A cough in particular can last for two or three weeks. Colds tend to last longer in younger children who are under five, typically lasting around 10 to 14 days.Why is my cold getting worse not better? ›
If your symptoms don't improve or they start to get worse, let your doctor know. You might have a bacterial infection that needs treatment with an antibiotic. Fight cold and flu symptoms all year round with Amazon Basic Care. Save your tissues — shop popular products to calm your cough and congestion.How do you know if a cold is viral or bacterial? ›
- symptoms last longer than 10 to 14 days.
- symptoms continue to get worse rather than improve over several days.
- you have a higher fever than normally observed with a cold.
Symptoms of a cold usually peak within 2 to 3 days and can include: Sneezing. Stuffy nose. Runny nose.Why has my cold lasted 4 days? ›
The average cold lasts about three days to two weeks, so if your cough isn't going away, it could be because the cold medicine isn't cutting it. COVID-19, allergies, pneumonia, sinus infections and acute bronchitis can last for weeks—or sometimes months— rather than days.How do you shorten a cold coming on? ›
- Reduce stress. When we are stressed, we subject our body to hormones that promote increased inflammation. ...
- Get plenty of sleep. Studies have also shown that poor sleep can jeopardize immune function. ...
- Stay hydrated. ...
- Eat fruits and vegetables.
- Runny or stuffy nose.
- Sore throat.