It’s spooky season. Your neighbor has a seven-foot skeleton in their front yard. Every grocery store has a jump scare by their candy display. And you have … a cold.
Whether you’re a Halloween lover or would rather count down the days to the winter holidays, one thing is certain — no one loves being sick.
“The common cold — a viral infection that is most commonly caused by a rhinovirus — is a self-limiting condition that usually lasts for five to seven days and resolves without any treatments,” says Dr. Iman Majd, director of the Osher Center for Integrative Health in the Department of Family Medicine at the UW School of Medicine.
While a common cold typically resolves on its own, being uncomfortable and feverish for a week can feel like your own personal scary movie. The good news — there are ways to find relief, and it doesn’t always have to be found in the form of medication.
So, don’t take over-the-counter medications for colds?
You can absolutely take over-the-counter (OTC) meds for a common cold. In fact, Majd says that OTC medication can help control your symptoms and reduce their intensity.
Some common OTC cold medications include:
- Expectorants: Drugs like guaifenesin can help if you’ve got a nasty cough. These help thin the mucus in your airways and help you get rid of that unpleasant phlegm.
- Decongestants: Drugs like pseudoephedrine can help to decrease the amount of swelling in your sinuses to help you breathe a little better.
- Antihistamines: Drugs like diphenhydramine can help relieve sneeziness; itchy, watery eyes; and a runny nose. They help with a cold but they’re great for allergies, too.
- Fever, aches and chills reducers: Drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help reduce fevers and the overall body pain you feel when you’re sick.
Despite their effectiveness, it’s important to approach these medications with caution.
“OTC medications are mostly safe for young adults without any underlying medical conditions, but one should be cautious if there may be any potential side effects and interactions with medications people are taking,” Majd says.
For example, Majd cautions people with high blood pressure that using OTC medications that contain pseudoephedrine can increase blood pressure.
Also, remember that drugs like acetaminophen are safe at low doses but can be dangerous if you take too much.
10 home remedies for colds
As with OTC medications, home remedies themselves won’t cure your cold, and you should be aware of any interactions they might have with medications you’re taking (or medical conditions you currently have). But if you want to prepare your body to give it the best chance to chase out that wicked cold, there are plenty of options to keep in your arsenal.
If you’re fighting something, whether it’s supernatural or viral, staying hydrated will keep you going for a lot longer than a dehydrated body.
“Staying hydrated helps keep your throat moist and thins mucus, making it easier to clear congestion,” says Majd.
In addition to water, try drinking diluted vegetable juices and warm broth.
Sure, most people in scary movies aren’t sleeping, but that’s because the threat lurks outside their door (or in their closet, or under their bed). When the threat is an infection, allowing your body to rest gives it space to recover and strengthen its immune response.
Warm saltwater gargle
Gargling can feel uncomfortable and has the “foam-at-the-mouth” vibes you get from a horror film, but this can make your cold-induced sore throat feel a bit better. Majd explains that a warm saltwater gargle can soothe the sore throat and reduce inflammation.
Honey and lemon
“Mixing honey and freshly squeezed lemon juice in warm water can provide relief for a sore throat and cough,” says Majd. “Honey has natural antibacterial properties.”
The use of vitamin C is one of the more popular home remedies. While plenty of OTC vitamin C options exist (which are typically manufactured versions of the vitamin), Majd also recommends natural sources.
“Consuming foods rich in vitamin C such as oranges, strawberries and bell peppers may help support your immune system,” he says.
Yes, these are typically found OTC, but zinc lozenges are still an alternative way of boosting the immune system and shortening the duration of your cold. Try to find a tasty one … fighting a cold doesn’t have to leave a bitter taste.
A remedy that smells good and works to ease congestion? Absolutely.
Majd suggests adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil to hot water and inhaling the steam to help with congestion.
“Ginger has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties,” says Majd. “You can make ginger tea by boiling slices of fresh ginger in water.”
If garlic can keep away vampires, it can keep away a cold, right? Kind of.
“Garlic contains compounds that can support the immune system,” says Majd. “Adding garlic to your meals or consuming it raw might be beneficial if you can tolerate it.”
This beautiful flower has healing properties. Majd mentions that it boosts the immune system, specifically as a preventive measure. This means you can take it regularly through tinctures, extracts or teas (aka before you’re sick) to keep the creepy crawlies away.
The last one standing
Skeptical about the efficacy of home remedies for colds?
“Home remedies have chemicals and constituents that stimulate the immune system and can help inhibit the ability of the viruses to take over the cells and spread in the body,” explains Majd. “Some of the active ingredients are antibacterial. Most modern medicines are formulated based on the understanding of the function of the active ingredients of the natural products.”
At the end of the day, if your symptoms don’t improve (or if they worsen) after ten days, if you have trouble breathing or if your symptoms go away but come back worse, it’s time to recruit more help — your doctor can help rule out any other condition you might be fighting. But the other weird, unexplainable things that jump out during spooky season? You might be left to handle those on your own.