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Common Cold Self-Care: How to Treat Yourself at Home

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract that causes symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, cough, and congestion. It is usually mild and goes away on its own in a week or two, but it can make you feel miserable and interfere with your daily activities. While there is no cure for the common cold, there are some self-care steps you can take to ease your symptoms and speed up your recovery. In this blog post, we will share some of the best natural remedies and over-the-counter medications for the common cold, as well as answer some frequently asked questions about this common ailment.

10 Self-Care Tips for the Common Cold

Here are 10 things you can do at home to help yourself feel better when you have a cold:

  1. Get plenty of rest and sleep. Resting helps your immune system fight the virus and recover faster. Try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night, and take naps during the day if you feel tired. Avoid strenuous activities and stress, which can weaken your immune system and prolong your illness.
  2. Drink lots of fluids. Staying hydrated helps thin the mucus in your nose and throat, making it easier to breathe and expel. It also prevents dehydration, which can worsen your symptoms and cause complications. Drink water, herbal teas, soups, broths, and juices, and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can dehydrate you and irritate your throat. Some people swear by chicken soup, which is a source of fluids, electrolytes, and antioxidants, and may have anti-inflammatory effects[^1^][1].
  3. Gargle with salt water. Gargling with warm salt water can soothe a sore throat, reduce inflammation, and kill bacteria. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle for a few seconds, then spit it out. Repeat several times a day until your throat feels better. You can also add a pinch of baking soda or a few drops of lemon juice to the salt water for extra relief.
  4. Use nasal saline drops or spray. Nasal saline drops or spray can help moisten and clear your nasal passages, reducing congestion and sinus pressure. You can buy them over-the-counter or make your own by mixing one teaspoon of salt and one cup of distilled or boiled water. Use a dropper or a spray bottle to apply the solution to each nostril, then gently blow your nose. Do this several times a day as needed.
  5. Try a humidifier or a steam inhalation. Adding moisture to the air can help loosen the mucus in your nose and chest, making it easier to cough it up. You can use a humidifier or a vaporizer in your bedroom or living room, or take a hot shower or bath. You can also try a steam inhalation by filling a bowl with hot water and adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil, or menthol. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the steam for 10 to 15 minutes, then blow your nose. Be careful not to burn yourself with the hot water or steam.
  6. Take over-the-counter medications. There are many over-the-counter medications that can help relieve your cold symptoms, such as painkillers, decongestants, antihistamines, and cough suppressants. However, they are not suitable for everyone and may have side effects or interactions with other drugs. Always read the label carefully and follow the directions, and consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication, especially if you have a chronic condition, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are giving it to a child. Do not take more than one product that contains the same active ingredient, such as acetaminophen, to avoid overdose. Do not use nasal decongestant sprays for more than three days, as they can cause rebound congestion.
  7. Try zinc lozenges or syrup. Zinc is a mineral that plays a role in immune function and wound healing. Some studies have shown that zinc may help reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms, especially if taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms[^2^][2]. Zinc lozenges or syrup can be bought over-the-counter and taken as directed on the label. However, zinc can also cause side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, and metallic taste, and may interfere with some medications. Do not take more than the recommended dose, and do not use zinc nasal sprays or gels, as they have been linked to loss of smell.
  8. Eat healthy foods. Eating a balanced diet can help boost your immune system and provide your body with the nutrients it needs to fight the infection. Include plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, kiwis, strawberries, and bell peppers. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that may help reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms[^3^][3]. Other foods that may have anti-viral or anti-inflammatory properties include garlic, ginger, turmeric, honey, and yogurt. Avoid foods that can irritate your throat or cause mucus production, such as spicy, fried, or dairy foods.
  9. Use natural remedies. There are many natural remedies that people use to treat cold symptoms, such as herbal teas, essential oils, homeopathic remedies, and supplements. Some of the most popular ones include echinacea, ginseng, elderberry, astragalus, and vitamin D. However, the evidence for their effectiveness and safety is limited or conflicting, and they may have side effects or interactions with other drugs. Before using any natural remedy, consult your doctor or pharmacist, and follow the instructions on the label. Do not use any remedy that you are allergic to or that is not approved by a reputable authority.
  10. See your doctor if needed. Most colds go away on their own in a week or two, and do not require medical attention. However, sometimes a cold can lead to complications, such as ear infections, sinus infections, bronchitis, or pneumonia. You should see your doctor if you have any of the following signs or symptoms:
  • A fever higher than 38.5°C (101.3°F) or lasting more than three days
  • Severe or persistent headache, earache, or sinus pain
  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or chest pain
  • Coughing up blood or yellow-green mucus
  • A rash or swollen glands
  • Symptoms that get worse or do not improve after 10 days
  • A weakened immune system due to a chronic condition, medication, or treatment
  • A history of asthma, COPD, heart disease, diabetes, or other serious illness

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you have a bacterial infection, or antiviral drugs if you have a flu or another viral infection. Do not take antibiotics for a cold, as they are ineffective against viruses and can cause resistance and side effects.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Common Cold

Here are some of the most common questions people have about the common cold and their answers:

  • What causes the common cold? The common cold is caused by more than 200 different types of viruses, the most common being rhinoviruses. The virus enters your body through your nose, mouth, or eyes, and infects the cells lining your nose and throat. The virus then triggers an immune response, which causes inflammation and mucus production, leading to the typical cold symptoms. The virus can spread from person to person through direct contact, such as shaking hands or kissing, or through indirect contact, such as touching a contaminated surface or inhaling droplets from a cough or sneeze.
  • How long does the common cold last? The duration of the common cold varies depending on the type of virus, your immune system, and your overall health. Generally, the incubation period (the time between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms) is one to three days, and the contagious period (the time when you can spread the virus to others) is two to four days before and after the symptoms appear. The symptoms usually peak around day three or four, and gradually subside over the next seven to 10 days. However, some symptoms, such as cough or nasal congestion, may linger for up to three weeks.
  • How can I prevent the common cold? The best way to prevent the common cold is to avoid exposure to the virus and to boost your immune system. You can do this by following these tips:
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, especially before eating, after using the bathroom, and after touching your nose or mouth. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your nose, mouth, and eyes, with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze, and dispose of the tissue in a trash can. Wash your hands afterward.
  • Stay away from people who are sick, and avoid sharing personal items, such as utensils, cups, or towels, with them.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, keyboards, and phones, regularly.
  • Get enough sleep, exercise, and relaxation, and manage your stress levels.
  • Eat a healthy diet, and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Quit smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke, which can irritate your throat and lungs and increase your risk of infection.
  • Get vaccinated against the flu and other preventable diseases, such as measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox, which can reduce your chances of getting a cold or a more serious infection.
  • Consult your doctor before traveling to areas where colds are more common or severe, such as high altitudes, cold climates, or crowded places.
  • How can I treat the common cold? There is no specific treatment for the common cold, as it is caused by a virus that cannot be killed by antibiotics or antiviral drugs. The only thing you can do is to relieve your symptoms and support your immune system until your body clears the infection. You can do this by following the self-care tips mentioned above, such as resting, drinking fluids, gargling, using nasal saline, taking over-the-counter medications, trying zinc or natural remedies, and seeing your doctor if needed. Do not expect a quick fix, as the cold usually takes its course and resolves on its own in a week or two.
  • Can I get the common cold more than once? Yes, you can get the common cold more than once, as there are many different types of viruses that cause it, and they are constantly changing and evolving. Your immune system can develop antibodies against a specific virus, but they may not protect you from a different or new strain. That is why you can catch a cold several times a year, especially during the fall and winter seasons, when the viruses are more active and people spend more time indoors. However, you may develop some immunity over time, and experience milder or fewer colds as you age.
  • How can I tell the difference between a cold and a flu? The common cold and the flu are both viral infections of the respiratory tract, but they are caused by different types of viruses and have different levels of severity. The flu is usually more serious and can lead to complications, such as pneumonia, while the cold is usually mild and self-limiting. The symptoms of the cold and the flu can overlap, but there are some key differences that can help you tell them apart. Here are some of the main differences:
  • Onset: The cold usually comes on gradually, while the flu usually comes on suddenly and hits hard.
  • Fever: The cold rarely causes a fever, and if it does, it is usually low-grade. The flu often causes a high fever, above 38.5°C (101.3°F), that lasts for several days.
  • Headache: The cold sometimes causes a mild headache, while the flu often causes a severe headache.
  • Muscle and joint pain: The cold rarely causes muscle and joint pain, while the flu often causes moderate to severe muscle and joint pain, especially in the back, arms, and legs.
  • Fatigue and weakness: The cold sometimes causes fatigue and weakness, but they are usually mild and short-lived. The flu often causes extreme fatigue and weakness, that can last for weeks.
  • Cough: The cold usually causes a mild to moderate cough, with clear or white mucus. The flu often causes a dry, hacking cough, with yellow or green mucus.
  • Sore throat: The cold often causes a sore throat, while the flu rarely causes a sore throat.
  • Runny or stuffy nose: The cold often causes a runny or stuffy nose, while the flu rarely causes a runny or stuffy nose.
  • Sneezing: The cold often causes sneezing, while the flu rarely causes sneezing.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea: The cold rarely causes nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, while the flu sometimes causes nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, especially in children.

If you are not sure whether you have a cold or a flu, you can use a symptom checker tool, such as the one provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or consult your doctor. The flu can be diagnosed with a rapid test, and treated with antiviral drugs if started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. The flu can also be prevented with a yearly vaccine, which is recommended for everyone over six months of age.


The common cold is a very common and usually harmless infection, but it can make you feel miserable and affect your quality of life. While there is no cure for the common cold, there are many things you can do to ease your symptoms and speed up your recovery. You can also take steps to prevent the common cold, or at least reduce its frequency and severity, by boosting your immune system and avoiding exposure to the virus. Remember to see your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms of complications, or if you are not sure whether you have a cold or a flu. Stay healthy and take care of yourself! 😊

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