How to Treat the Common Cold
While mostly harmless, a cold packs a multi-symptom punch and lingers like an annoying house guest. Rest, whole foods, and plenty of fluids are key to treating a common cold, but here are some additional tips for relief from Mark Hyman, MD.
Symptom: Runny nose and congestion
Remedy: Daily saline flush
For thousands of years, people in India have used small neti pots filled with saltwater to rinse the nasal passages. Today, experts at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital recommend saline-rinse treatments for sinusitis sufferers, and studies show that daily saline rinsing helps ease sinus woes.
“Flushing your sinuses with mild saltwater keeps mucous membranes moist, which protects you from microbes,” says Hyman. “Use a neti pot at home, or easy-to-carry plastic bottles that come with saline packets when traveling or even at the office.” The FDA recommends filtered water, as tap water has in rare instances caused serious microbial infections.
Drugstore decongestants can raise blood pressure, and conventional nasal sprays may cause dependency, but saline rinsing has no major contraindications.
Symptom: Sore throat
Remedy: Hot tea, followed by echinacea and goldenseal
Hot tea or hot water with lemon and honey are almost always the ticket to instant relief from acute sore-throat pain. Certain herbs also have proven healing powers. Native Americans used the flowering echinacea plant for more than 400 years as a general cure-all, and Hyman prescribes it for sore throats and other common cold symptoms.
Echinacea is often best used in combination with other herbs, he says. He suggests seeking out formulas that include various herbs with “broad-spectrum antimicrobial or immune-enhancing effects,” such as astragalus, green-tea extract, elderberry, andrographis, and goldenseal, combined with echinacea.
Check with your physician to learn if any of your medications may be contraindicated by these herbs.
Remedy: Sauna or steam treatments
For relief from hacking, “going for a nice sauna or steam is helpful.” says Hyman. Saunas have been used for rituals, relaxation, and healing for millennia. A 2017 study found that taking a sauna twice weekly helps ward off pneumonia, and Austrian researchers discovered that people who take saunas regularly contract fewer common colds.
If you don’t have access to a sauna or steam room, no worries. Just inhaling steamy air in the shower is beneficial. Or try this at-home treatment: Fill a bowl with hot water, add a few drops of eucalyptus oil, and drape a towel over your head as you lower it over the bowl. Then, keeping your eyes closed, breathe in the soothing vapors.
Symptom: Body aches
A good long snooze is the best medicine for nearly everything. “Sleep restores and heals the body,” says Hyman. “Without adequate sleep, optimal immune function is next to impossible.”
A lack of sleep makes any pain worse, so when body aches set in, hit the hay early.