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4 Cold Remedies to Get You Through Winter

Try gargling with saltwater, a humidifer and more to ease your coughing, sneezing and sore throat.

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Aside from having an excuse to binge watch your favorite TV series, having a cold stinks. Between the coughing and sneezing, you may wonder how you even caught it in the first place. But before you start blaming your best friend or a family member, it’s important to know how the common cold gets around. 

The common cold is a contagious viral infection that can be spread by direct contact with someone who has a cold. It can also be transferred from one person to another by way of tiny air droplets released through a sneeze or cough, or by someone blowing their nose. Some cold viruses can even live on surfaces for several hours. Keeping your overall hygiene in check, including frequently washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, can help prevent the spread of germs. 

Typical symptoms of the common cold are a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, a sore throat from post-nasal drip, a cough or a headache. Generally, symptoms of a common cold persist for three to seven days, or in some cases, up to two weeks.  

Although there is no proven cure for the common cold, there are ways to get some relief. Kevin Bohnsack, MD, of Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital in Milan, Michigan, gave us some intel on common cold remedies that may actually work. 

Medically reviewed in August 2018. Updated in September 2019.

Use a humidifier

2 / 5 Use a humidifier

A humidifier won’t get rid of your cold, but it might make it easier for you to breathe while you sleep. If you have a stuffy nose, a humidifier will help keep the mucus membranes, or the lining of the nose, moist. Although a humidifier can be a great tool to generate moisture, it can also spread germs and mold through the air if you don’t rinse it and scrub it with dish soap and warm water frequently. Keeping your humidifier clean is especially important for people with allergies or asthma. 

Try to maintain your room’s humidity somewhere between 30 and 50 percent—too high or too low of a humidity level can make your cold worse. If you can’t get a humidifier, saline nasal sprays are also a great way to ease a stuffy nose. 

Gargle with saltwater

3 / 5 Gargle with saltwater

Your throat may feel like it’s on fire, but your doctor told you it’s not strep throat. If you have bad post-nasal drainage that makes your throat feel like it’s on fire, gargling with saltwater may relieve pain, although it’s not a guarantee. Try mixing 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of table salt into 4 to 8 ounces of warm water. While gargling with salt water won’t fight the cold infection, it’s not likely to be harmful.

Drink lots of water

4 / 5 Drink lots of water

There’s no evidence that hydration reduces the duration of cold symptoms, but it may ease them. Drinking plenty of water can loosen congestion in the throat, maintain the balance of bodily fluids and prevent dehydration. Staying hydrated can especially help if you feel a fever coming on; any time you’re sweating out your liquids, it’s important to replenish them. In addition to water, drinking warm beverages such as tea or soup can also help drain mucus.

Always talk to your doctor about how much water is right for you. Everyone’s needs vary depending on their activity level, the weather, environmental conditions and medications.

Over-the-counter medications

5 / 5 Over-the-counter medications

Unfortunately, there’s no medication proven to cure the common cold—despite the fact that the pharmacy’s cold remedies aisle is 20 feet long. “If we had already found that definitive medication, the aisle would only be 1 foot long. There'd be one medication," says Dr. Bohnsack. 

In his experience, however, sometimes nasal decongestant or antihistamine medicines seem to help a runny nose and sneezing. Some pain relievers can ease discomfort associated with a headache or sore throat, as well, and certain cough suppressant medications may help control short term coughing.

At the end of the day, Bohnsack suggests doing whatever works for you. As a precaution, only take medications as directed and carefully read the labels. Speak with your doctor if you have any concerns about specific drugs.

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