A number of complementary and alternative medicine treatments may help reduce the severity and length of the common cold. Alternative treatments tend to have few and sometimes no side effects and often can be used in conjunction with standard treatments. But, always check with your primary healthcare provider before trying them.

Home Remedies

There are several non-medication treatments that can help lessen the symptoms of the common cold.

Plenty of Fluids

Fluids (especially water) are necessary for your immune system to function properly and they loosen congestion and help avoid dehydration. Avoid caffeine, caffeinated sodas and alcohol since they can contribute to dehydration.

Gargling

Gargling with warm water or salt water helps reduce the inflammation of a sore or scratchy throat. Gargle 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in an eight-ounce glass of warm water. Repeat a few times daily.

Nasal Irrigation

Nasal irrigation with saline solution washes away excess mucus and can lessen stuffiness and congestion. One study showed that using plain tap water is as effective in preventing colds, although it is unclear why. There are isotonic and hypertonic nasal washes: both contain salt but the hypertonic washes have a higher concentration which some find produces a burning sensation. Research shows that using a nasal saline wash can help prevent reappearance of cold and flu in children. There are nasal saline washes designed to help adults and products especially for children. Check with your pediatrician.

Drinking Fluids

Drink as much fluids as you can. Drinking fluids such as water, juice, soup, or warm broth helps thin the mucus in your throat and makes it easier to cough up excess phlegm. Hot liquids such tea also help and can reduce mucus and soothe a sore throat. Importantly, fluids also replenish fluids lost when you have a fever or when your body is producing mucus.

Chicken Soup

It's not just a remedy that families have put their faith in since the 12th century. Research now shows that it has anti-inflammatory properties that help with cold and flu symptoms. It also temporarily helps move mucus which in turn helps relieve congestion.

Vaporizer or Cool-Mist H

These home appliances add moisture to dry air helping relieve a dry cough or sore throat. Be sure to change the water in your humidifier daily to avoid the growth of bacteria. Or use distilled or de-mineralized water.

Rest

Getting plenty of rest allows your body to fight the infection and recover. And if you are tucked up in bed, you are not infecting others.

Honey

This natural sweetener has some anti-inflammatory properties and helps soothe a sore throat. Add a teaspoon of honey to a cup of hot tea.

Herbs and Supplements

There are several herbs that some believe may help relieve common cold symptoms or shorten the duration of a cold. These claims are controversial, however, and the studies done thus far on alternative remedies have had mixed results. And since herbal remedies are not standardized, the amount of the herb in a product can vary considerably. There is no way of knowing the quality of most remedies so choosing known brands or purchasing from reputable stores is especially important. If you want to give any herbs or dietary supplements a try, talk to your primary healthcare provider before you start taking them to make sure they don’t interfere with any over-the-counter or prescription medications you are currently taking. Many are not recommended for children so do not use without consulting your pediatrician. Some herbs and dietary supplements that may help with the common cold include:

Echinacea

Research on the herb and whether it helps prevent or relieve cold symptoms has had mixed results. Some studies show that echinacea may modestly relieve cold symptoms or shorten the duration of a cold, particularly if the herb is taken when you first experience symptoms. Other studies have not shown any helpful impact on symptoms or how long a cold lasts. Different parts of the plant may be used in these remedies, and concentrations also vary, so it is difficult to know what you are getting. Choosing well-known brands is your best bet. Side effects of Echinacea can include diarrhea, and there are possible drug interactions so check with your doctor.

Vitamin C

Not everyone agrees on the benefits of vitamin C, but some studies seem to suggest that at high doses, vitamin C may provide a slight reduction in the duration and severity of cold symptoms. Perhaps its best results may come as a cold preventative because in a study of marathon runners, skiers and soldiers experiencing significant physical stress or very cold temperatures, participants got approximately 50% fewer colds.

Zinc

For a time this mineral looked promising. Research showed limited evidence that when zinc nasal sprays or lozenges were taken at the first signs of a cold, it might help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. However, zinc nasal sprays have been linked to a permanent loss of smell so their use is definitely not recommended and experts do not concur on the wisdom of using zinc lozenges.

Goldenseal

This herb has been used to treat colds and other respiratory tract infections. Again, opinions on its effectiveness vary. Goldenseal is often combined with echinacea. Women who are pregnant should avoid using goldenseal, and it is not suitable for infants or children.

Mind/Body Approaches

Stress and anxiety can weaken the immune system, which makes you more vulnerable to the common cold. Techniques that lower stress may reduce the risk of the common cold. These may include:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Guided imagery
Acupuncture

Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on your body. Studies now suggest that the ancient Chinese treatment can help strengthen the immune system and thereby make you less susceptible to the common cold. Ask your doctor whether acupuncture is safe for you.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy helps promote relaxation and reduces stress, so it can lower your risk of common cold. Try sleeping with an aromatic neck pillow filled with a soothing flower or herb like chamomile or lavender to help ease stress and anxiety.