Being sick is hard on everyone, but can be especially hard on those of us who try to limit our intake of medications. Instead of going to the drug store to pick up cough syrup or pills, we have to do some research to find out what works for different symptoms. There are a lot of websites out there with a lot of different ideas, and since I just went through this process, I will talk about some of the things that I did to feel better, what worked, and what didn't. I have broken the post down by symptoms, since a cold can present with several different symptoms and your combination may be completely different from mine or anyone else's.
Congestion is terrible. It makes you feel exhausted. A lot of the other cold symptoms would be much more bearable if you could just breathe. There are basic kinds of congestion when it comes to colds; nasal/sinus congestion, and chest congestion. The nasal or sinus congestion is when your nose gets all stuffed up and you can't breathe. Sometimes this is caused by extra mucus, and sometimes it is caused by swelling. Chest congestion is when you get a build up of mucus in your bronchial tubes. You know your chest is congested when you get that rattling sound/feeling from your chest when you cough, and sometimes when you breathe.
Steam is great for nasal and chest congestion. You can buy nebulizers or neti pots, but I like to just use a bowl of hot water. If you buy something to make steam, always follow the directions for use on the packaging. I generally heat up water in a pan or kettle on the stove until it simmers. Then I pour it into a bowl, add some essential oils, and put my head over it covered by a towel. Make sure to put the bowl of hot water on a surface that is heat safe. If you are using a table, put something under it to keep from damaging the table. You will want to hold your face a comfortable distance from the water. It should feel hot, but not like you are burning. Cover your head and the bowl with a towel to keep the steam more concentrated. Breathe in the steam through your nose and mouth. You may want to have some tissues near by. Plain steam is fine, but you can also add some essential oils which will help to open things up, and clean out any bacteria. I recommend using one or a combination of the following oils: eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree, lavender, or lemon. You can also read up on essential oils, and try your own combinations.
When I had problems with chest congestion, I found a lot of relief from a warm compress placed on my chest. I used a rice pack heated in the microwave. If you don't have a rice pack, they are fairly easy to make even if you don't have sewing skills. If you can sew, just make a pillow and fill it. If you don't sew, you can take an old (clean) sock, fill it and tie off the end. You can also try small pillow cases knotted at the end, or fabric bags that can close, or be creative and use what you have on hand. The best things to fill your hot pack with are white rice, kitty litter(clean), or buckwheat. Rice and kitty litter are pretty widely available and budget friendly. You can also add herbs for aromatherapy and healing benefits. The important thing is to try to get a moist heat. All of those materials are designed to take in moisture, so when they are heated, they draw in moisture and create that moist heat you are looking for. In a pinch, you can also spray some water on a heating pad. Make sure that the heating pad is safe to spray with water first. Many of the heating pads on the market today are designed to be safe to use with water.
While technically two different symptoms, sore throat and cough go hand in hand and have similar treatments.
One of the things that helped my sore throat and cough the most was putting lemon in my water. It is important to stay hydrated when you have a cold. Each time I had a glass of water, I put 2 drops of lemon essential oil in it. Whenever I had a fit of coughing, I would drink some of the lemon water and it would help. It was also soothing for my throat. The citric acid in the lemon can also help to cut mucus and help with congestion.
Honey is great to coat your throat when it is sore. It is also a great option for children who have a cough or a sore throat because of the pleasant taste. You can try using honey sticks, or just swallowing a spoonful of it.
There are many tea brands out there that have blends for colds, immune boosting, throat coating, etc. Choose one that tastes good to you. If you have trouble with tea being too bitter or strong, try adding some lemon or honey to it. The hot tea is also very soothing for a sore throat. With a sore throat, many people reach for something cold thinking it will be soothing. Cold generally feels good in the moment, but the heat is better for healing.
There are many home remedies that are pretty much all purpose cold fighters. Here are a few of them.
Try taking ginger capsules, or steeping raw ginger in hot water as tea. You can also find ready made ginger tea or lemon ginger. It is great for clearing your sinuses and treating congestion.
There are many good oils you can use to treat colds and cold symptoms. Try diffusing them, or applying them to topically. Some of them you can also consume, like the lemon oil in the water. Try eucalyptus, tea tree, peppermint, lavender, oregano, lemon, or Thieves oil blend, or do some research and make your own blends.
Garlic is great for boosting your immunity and treating a cold. Try cutting up a one or two cloves of garlic and adding them to a glass of water. The garlic may be a bit strong so you might want to drink it quickly. You can also add raw garlic to food if it makes it easier to take.
Apple Cider Vinegar
I am not a fan of apple cider vinegar because of the smell and taste, so it isn't one of my go-to treatments. If you want to give it a try, some people like to drink it straight, or add garlic, lemon, honey, or cinnamon to it.
I haven't tried this one, but many people swear by hydrogen peroxide in the ear. If you would like to try this method, put a dropper full of hydrogen peroxide directly into your ear. Lie on your side with the liquid in your ear until it stops bubbling. Repeat on the other side.
Immune Boosting Supplements
I recommend using immune boosting supplements even when you aren't sick. Take a look at some vitamin blends like Emergen-C, Airborne, or immune boosting multi-vitamins.
The best treatment for most colds is sleep. If possible, try to take a day off and just sleep. Your body heals itself when you sleep. If you can, go to bed early and wake up late.
Some people like to stay away from medications if possible. Sometimes it is due to allergies or sensitivities, sometimes it is personal preference. Personally, I try to limit my intake of OTC and prescription medications, however occasionally they are helpful. I think the key is moderation. You don't want to be on anything long term, and you don't want to pump too much into your body.
If you take a cold medication and your symptoms return when you stop taking it, it is probably just treating the symptoms without getting rid of the virus. That is why nasal sprays should be avoided. They dry up the mucus and make you feel better, but the second you stop using it, the congestion is back. You can wind up taking medications a lot longer to manage your symptoms without getting better. If you find something that makes you feel well quickly, and you still feel good if you stop taking it in a few days, great. Go for it. You may also want to try a nice detox bath afterward to help flush out some of the chemicals. A hot bath with epsom or sea salt, and some cleansing essential oils like tea tree or lavender is a great idea once you are feeling a bit better.
There are a growing number of homeopathic and natural OTC cold treatments. Many store brands even make homeopathic lines. Those can be a great more natural option for many people. Try cough syrups that have honey or lemon high up on the ingredient list. Always use your best judgement.
Cold season is no fun. I hope that some of these remedies help you to feel better faster. Do you have any favorite remedies or recipes that I didn't list above? Leave a comment to let people know what has worked for you!