Cold Remedies You Should Try, and Ones To Avoid

When it comes to being sick, we can be tempted to try any remedy that promises to make us healthy as quickly as possible. But like with all get-well-quick antidotes, there are certain cures that help rid you of your cold much faster than others — and some self-proclaimed cure-alls that don’t work so well at all. Here’s a look at nine cold remedies you should try, and six you should avoid. (The remedy to avoid on page 14 will probably surprise you.)

1. Try: Adding moisture to the air

Air humidifier | yocamon/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

You may think adding moisture to the air would make your cold worse. In fact, a little moisture can help break up the congestion in your head. Mayo Clinic recommends getting a vaporizer for your home and changing the water filter daily.

Next: You don’t want to spill it, but you should definitely consider gargling it …

2. Try: Gargling saltwater

salt cellar and spilled salt

Salt | Sebalos/iStock/Getty Images

If you have a sore throat, this is one of the best ways to soothe it. (Plus, it will taste a heck of a lot better than some of the over-the-counter medicines you can take.) Mayo Clinic instructs us to dissolve 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of salt in an eight-ounce glass of warm water and gargle it to relieve that uncomfortable scratchy feeling that makes you cough.

Next: Try this when your head starts pounding …

3. Try: Hot packs on congested areas

Migraine pain

A headache | sankalpmaya/Getty Images

Congestion can cause painful headaches. WebMD tells us both hot and cold packs can help relieve head congestion — although we’re personally a fan of using heat to help decongest. To use this method, WebMD suggests heating up a wet washcloth for 55 seconds in the microwave. Then lay back and place it on your face for a few minutes.

Next: Speaking of hot things …

4. Try: Sipping hot liquids

Young woman in plaid and eyeglasses drinking hot tea from mug during work in office

Fighting off a cold | shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

In addition to gargling warm salt water, sipping on hot soup or tea can help battle your cold. Mayo Clinic adds that staying hydrated in general — drinking water, juice, broth, etc — can increase the flow of mucus in your head and throat and get it out of your system a little bit faster.

Next: It’s not an attractive remedy, but it works …

5. Try: Saline for a stuffy nose

Woman using nasal drops| CentralITAlliance/ iStock/ Getty Images

We know, shooting water up your nose is comfortable and looks silly. But it really does help. Over-the-counter saline nasal sprays help, as well as at-home saline solutions you can use with a medicinal bulb. (HealthLinkBC has instructions for making your own solution here.) Plus, using this remedy to clean out your sinuses can also help fight off infections.

Next: While we’re on the subject …

6. Try: Blowing your nose as often as possible

Woman blowing her nose into a tissue.

Sick with a cold | Sam Edwards/OJO Images/Getty Images

Sure, you’re tempted to sniff all that gunk back when you’re in public. But the best way to get over your cold quicker is to blow your nose as often as possible and get that built-up mucus out of your body. Just be careful how hard you blow — WebMD cautions blowing your nose too hard can cause some of that germ-y phlegm into your ear passages and give you an earache.

Next: Here’s a remedy everyone can get on board with …

7. Try: Getting more sleep

Man asleep on his side

Sleeping man | YakobchukOlena/Getty Images

There’s no denying it: Rest is the best way to help your body recuperate when you’re sick. Staying bundled up and relaxed helps the body redirect all its efforts to helping your immune system, WebMD says.

Next: Chow down …

8. Try: Eating foods that help clear your sinuses

Cup of tea with lemon slices and ginger

Cup of tea with lemon and ginger| White Caty/iStock/Getty Images

Whether it’s a cold, the flu, or seasonal allergies, there are certain foods that are proven to help alleviate the symptoms that plague your head. The Spruce Eats recommends adding ginger and honey to tea to help your sinuses, and eating horseradish to clear your nasal passageways, among other food remedies.

Next: Not all the best remedies are natural …

9. Try: Over-the-counter congestion meds

Medications on shelves of medicine cabinet

Medications on the Shelves of a Medicine Cabinet | smartstock/iStock/Getty Images

Sometimes, the best medicine is the one you can buy at the store. Mayo Clinic advises taking over-the-counter decongestants only as directed. They also remind us younger children shouldn’t be given the same medicines as adults and advises talking to a doctor before giving your child any cold medication.

Next: On the flip side …

10. Beware of: Antibiotics


Medicine | Artisteer/iStock/Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, antibiotics are not the answer when it comes to curing your cold. “These attack bacteria, but they’re no help against cold viruses,” Mayo Clinic says. “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.”

Next: On a similar note …

11. Beware of: Zinc and echinacea

Foods with Zinc mineral

Foods containing zinc | bit245/Getty Images

You’ll find plenty of websites that promote zinc and echinacea as great remedies for the common cold. There’s research to suggest zinc can help keep a cold from getting worse, but taking it all the time won’t keep you from ever getting sick. There have also been mixed results when it comes to how effective echinacea actually is when it comes to preventing colds.

Next: Something else to consider …

12. Beware of: Going overboard on vitamin C

Yellow transparent capsules

Vitamin capsules | areeya_ann/iStock/Getty Images

Like zinc and echinacea, there is no definitive evidence showing that vitamin C helps prevent or treat the common cold. Plus, having too much of it isn’t exactly good for you. While a high dose isn’t likely to do major damage, too much vitamin C can cause nausea and diarrhea.

Next: One more time …

13. Beware of: Giving small children cold remedies for adults

Child with a cold | Kyryl Gorlov/ iStock/ Getty Images

“Some cough and cold medicines also have serious side effects, such as slowed breathing, which can be life-threatening, especially in infants and young children, so it’s important to know when your child needs medication and when they can do without it,” the FDA warns. They do not recommend over-the-counter cold remedies for children under two years of age and caution strongly to read all labels.

Next: You won’t believe this …

14. Beware of: Staying cooped up inside

Feeling cold

Staying inside | Vladans/iStock/Getty Images

It sounds crazy, but it’s true. The Cheat Sheet recently dove into the matter, finding out staying completely cooped up inside a stuffy house doesn’t just make cold symptoms worse, but can cause them in the first place. You don’t have to sit outside all day if you’re truly sick, but getting fresh air can go a long way to help relieve your symptoms.

Next: Last but not least …

15. Beware of: Continuing on as though everything’s fine

Cold Woman warmly clothed in a cold home

Woman wearing many layers to keep warm | Antonio Guillem/iStock/Getty Images

This may sound like a “gimme” but we’re all guilty of it. We never want to admit we’re getting sick and try to carry on with our busy lives without taking care of ourselves. But at the end of the day, the best thing you can do for yourself is tackle your cold head-on. That way you can get better and keep from spreading your cold germs to anybody else!

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