Rest, drinking fluids, and medicines can help you recover from a cold. Other remedies, such as vitamin C, zinc, and probiotic drinks, may also help relieve symptoms earlier.

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There’s no cure yet for the common cold, but you may be able to shorten the amount of time you’re sick by trying some promising supplements and practicing good self-care.

Stroll the aisles of any drugstore, and you’ll see an impressive range of products claiming to shorten the length of your cold. Few of them are backed by solid science. Here’s a list of remedies known to make a difference in how long colds last:

Taking a vitamin C supplement isn’t likely to prevent a cold. However, studies show that it may reduce the duration of colds and make them less severe. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that you must take about 200 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C regularly to receive this benefit. It’s unlikely to help once you already have cold symptoms.

Doses on the upper limit (2000 mg) can cause some side effects, so taking higher doses for any duration comes with this risk.

You can also get vitamin C through food.

Here’s the key: Don’t wait until you feel the symptoms coming on: Take the recommended dose every day. Taking vitamin C when a cold starts may not have much effect on how you feel or how long the cold hangs on.

Close to three decades of research on colds and zinc have yielded mixed results, but a 2017 review of studies indicated that zinc lozenges might help you get over a cold faster than you would without it. On average, the length of cold duration was cut down by 33%, which could mean at least a couple of days sooner.

You can start taking these lozenges when you first develop symptoms.

It’s important to note that the dosages in these studies, 80 to 92 mg daily, are much higher than the daily maximum recommended by the NIH. The 2017 review points out that doses of up to 150 mg of zinc per day are routinely taken for months by people with certain conditions with few side effects.

If you’re taking antibiotics, penicillamine (Cuprimine) for arthritis, or certain diuretics, talk with a doctor before taking zinc. The combination could reduce the effectiveness of your medications or the zinc.

A 2019 review of studies suggests that taking echinacea may slightly reduce your chance of developing a cold. The herbal supplement made from purple coneflower is available in tablets, teas, and extracts.

Some people who take echinacea report unwanted side effects, such as nausea and diarrhea. Consider talking with a doctor before trying echinacea to confirm it won’t interfere with any other medicines or supplements you’re taking.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) notes that the specific effect of echinacea on the immune system may depend on the bacteria present in the plant, which can vary depending on the soil composition and where it was grown.

Black elderberry is a traditional remedy used to fight colds in many parts of the world.

Although research is limited, a 2016 placebo-controlled, double-blind study of 312 plane travelers showed that those who took elderberry supplements significantly reduced cold duration and severity versus those who took a placebo.

A 2021 review of research suggests that elderberry supplementation may slightly shorten the length and severity of the common cold and influenza. The authors note that more quality studies are still needed.

Elderberry syrup is cooked and concentrated. Do not confuse it with raw elderberries, seeds, and bark, which can be toxic.

A 2019 study tracked 76 students at risk for catching colds during a stressful final exam period. Those who drank a small amount of beetroot juice seven times a day showed fewer cold symptoms than those who had not. In the study, the remedy was especially helpful for students with asthma.

Because beetroot juice is high in dietary nitrate, it increases the body’s production of nitric oxide, which may help protect you against respiratory infections.

If you’re prone to kidney stones, watch out for beetroot, which contains oxalates. These are known to contribute to kidney stone formation.

According to the NCCIH, reducing stress and improving mental health through regular meditation may help protect against colds and other respiratory infections.

If you’re looking to start meditating, a guided meditation app may help start your process.

Your gut health can affect your immune system. One 2021 placebo-controlled study found that in adults who are prone to getting colds, taking a daily probiotic supplement reduced the number of colds and repeat colds participants had over a three-year period. The participants in the probiotic group also used cold medication less when they were sick.

Probiotic bacteria vary from product to product, so check the label to know which one you’re buying.

Clearing your sinuses with a nasal rinse may help relieve symptoms of the common cold, according to the NCCIH.

You can use devices that include:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning against using tap water for nasal irrigation, as microorganisms in tap water can cause a severe and potentially fatal infection. They note that you should use only:

  • distilled or sterile water
  • tap water that has been boiled and cooled
  • water filtered with a specific filter

You can find instructions on how to use a Neti Pot safely.

While it can be tempting to try and boost your immune system with exercise, it’s probably best to take it easy for a few days. In fact, if you don’t get enough sleep day to day, you may be increasing your vulnerability to colds, according to 2015 research.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you get extra rest when you have a cold.

Honey contains compounds that may help support your immune function, including antimicrobial compounds.

If you or your child is having trouble getting good sleep to beat a cold, try honey, one of the most relied-on remedies for treating cold symptoms. A 2021 review of research showed that a spoonful of honey at bedtime can help kids sleep better by reducing nighttime coughing. It can also help soothe a sore throat.

Do not give honey to children under 12 months of age, as it can cause botulism.

Cold symptoms like coughing, sneezing, runny nose, congestion, sore throat, and headache can make it hard to function during the day and rest at night.

OTC cold medications may help relieve symptoms. These can include:

You should talk with a pediatrician before giving a child any OTC medication.

Drinking plenty of fluids is always beneficial when you’re trying to get rid of a cold. Not only do they keep you hydrated but they can also loosen congestion in your chest and nasal passages so you can breathe. Options can include:

Doctors typically recommend avoiding caffeine and alcohol because they can leave you dehydrated and may interfere with the sleep and rest you need for recovery.

When to get help

Colds don’t typically cause severe symptoms in people without healthy immune systems. But they may have similar symptoms to influenza, which can result in complications. Some people may develop other conditions, such as ear infections and sinus infections.

You may need medical care if:

  • your symptoms last longer than 10 days
  • you have a fever over 101.3°F (38.5°C)
  • you begin vomiting violently
  • your sinuses ache
  • your cough begins to sound like a wheeze
  • you feel pain in your chest
  • you have trouble breathing

Unfortunately, there is still no known cure for the common cold. However, you can reduce the duration of your illness by taking some promising vitamins and supplements, as well as engaging in good self-care. This includes vitamin C, Zinc, echinacea, and probiotics.

There are actually three stages of the common cold. They are:

  • first 1-3 days, also called prodrome
  • days 4-7, also called active or peak
  • days 8-10, also called end or late

Learn more about contagiousness and symptoms at each stage of the common cold.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to speed up how long it takes a cold to go away, though some vitamins or supplements might help. How long you have active symptoms depends on the specific virus, the health of your immune system, and your overall health. Different colds can be long or short even in the same person.

At the first sign of a cold, most of us want to make sure the sniffles and other symptoms go away as quickly as possible.

If you take vitamin C regularly, your cold symptoms may disappear earlier, and there is some scientific support for trying other natural remedies.

The best way to beat a cold fast is to rest, drink lots of fluids, and treat the symptoms with OTC medications.