You can’t “cure” it, but you can soothe the symptoms.
When cold symptoms strike, many people are eager to “get rid of” the virus and feel better. The bad news is, no meds can “cure” the cold (and neither can loading up on vitamin C). Instead, you kind of just have to let your immune system take care of it.
The good news? There are plenty of treatment options that can help you feel better while you wait for the cold to pass. Here’s what doctors recommend:
For starters, always try to get plenty of rest, since sleep helps recharge the immune system. A well-rested body is better able to fight off the cold virus. Additionally, drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to fend off dehydration and ease congestion.
Treating Runny Nose + Congestion
If runny nose and congestion are blocking your breathing (and preventing you from sleeping), you’ve got plenty of options:
Over-the-counter (OTC) oral decongestants: These help restrict the inflamed and swollen blood vessels inside the nose, helping you breathe more easily. These are not recommended for people with high blood pressure or other heart conditions.
Nasal saline irrigation (e.g., Neti pots): This old-fashioned treatment helps loosen up and flush out thick mucus. It uses a saline or saltwater that is gentle on the sensitive nasal membranes.
Warm, steamy liquids like tea or soup: The steam creates warm, humid air that can loosen up and ease congestion. Bonus: It also helps prevent dehydration and soothe sore throats. (Find out how chicken noodle soup can help treat a cold here.)
Still struggling to get some shuteye? Here are tips to sleep through a bad cold.
Treating a Bad Cough
Colds can sometimes bring about a nasty and frustrating cough, and it may be yet another symptom that keeps you awake. Here are the treatment options that can tame your cough:
OTC cough meds: Some work by inhibiting the reflex to cough, and others work by loosening the mucus in the throat, allowing you to cough it up and clear your throat.
Topical cough suppressants, like Vicks VapoRub: Rub these topical ointments (which contain things like menthol) on the chest and neck to suppress coughing.
Buckwheat honey: This specific type of honey has been shown to reduce the frequency of cough. Here are other foods to eat when you have a cold.
Treating Pain in the Head or Throat
Thankfully, the common cold doesn’t cause as many aches and pains as the flu does. However, the common cold sometimes causes sore throats, and can occasionally cause headaches as well. (Learn more difference between cold and flu symptoms here.)
Here’s what doctors recommend to treat cold-related pain:
OTC pain relievers: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can work wonders to soothe headaches and sore throats. They work by inhibiting the inflammation that’s causing the pain.
Gargling warm salt water: This home remedy naturally works to reduce the swelling of a sore throat. Simply combine a teaspoon of salt per cup of warm water. Learn more about how gargling with salt water helps soothe a sore throat.
Use a humidifier: Dry air makes a sore throat worse, and humidifiers can make the air in the room warmer and more moist, which may feel better on your throat.
These treatment methods should hold you over until the cold passes, but see a doctor if your symptoms get worse or last longer than two weeks. Otherwise, you should be able to melt away the cold on your own.
Common colds: protect yourself and others. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019. (Accessed on November 26, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/.)
Cough medicine: understanding your OTC options. Leawood, KS: American Academy of Family Physicians, 2019. (Accessed on November 26, 2021 at https://familydoctor.org/cough-medicine-understanding-your-otc-options/.)
Decongestants: OTC relief for congestion. Leawood, KS: American Academy of Family Physicians, 2017. (Accessed on November 26, 2021 at https://familydoctor.org/decongestants-otc-relief-for-congestion/.)
Is rinsing your sinuses with neti pots safe? Washington, DC: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2017. (Accessed on November 26, 2021 at https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/rinsing-your-sinuses-neti-pots-safe.)
Patient education: the common cold in adults (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2019. (Accessed on November 26, 2021 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/the-common-cold-in-adults-beyond-the-basics.)
The common cold and complementary health approaches. Bethesda, MD: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2017. (Accessed on November 26, 2021 at https://nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/cold.)
The do’s and don’ts of easing cold symptoms. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Medicine. (Accessed on November 26, 2021 at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-dos-and-donts-of-easing-cold-symptoms.)