A cold and flu can come on fast, but being ready to handle a few days of sickness can get you on the up and up before you know it.
Below, Healthline editors share real-life tips for when they feel a little something coming on.
From what vitamins to take to how to optimize your rest, you’ll learn some new tricks to add to your bag.
Here’s to expanding your cold and flu tool kit!
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
“I come at a cold or flu from as many angles as possible. First, I take a homeopathic remedy to shorten the duration of my symptoms.
Mainly, I sleep and stay hydrated. The first day of being sick, it’s practically all I do.
I learned recently that no matter how sick I think I’ll be or am, I should plan to take 3 days off work. Being in that limbo of trying to work when I’m still feeling terrible isn’t worth it, and I’ll feel better sooner if I let myself fully rest.
Giving myself permission to recover is just as important as taking all the right things.”
—Jamie Elmer, Copy Edit Project Manager
Always talk with a healthcare professional about what cold and flu medications are right for you. Do not combine medications without a doctor’s approval.
“The second I feel a tickle in my throat, especially if it appears along with fatigue, a headache, or body aches, I take a zinc lozenge and keep taking one every 3 hours or so until the symptoms go away.
FYI, you should not take more than 6 zinc lozenges a day!
I also stop drinking alcohol and make sleep a top priority. Most of the time, this strategy wards off a bug or at least decreases symptoms.
If I do end up getting decently sick, a long, hot shower is my go-to for feeling better. The steam helps with congestion, and the warmth relieves tense muscles.”
—Ginger Wojcik, Newsletter Editor
“Like most people, I try to avoid getting sick at all costs if I can. That said, when the inevitable cold or flu does hit, hydration has been a game-changer for me.
I know what you’re thinking: “Everybody knows to drink plenty of liquid when they’re sick!”
But I call it a ‘hack’ because not all liquids are created equal.
I used to drink water, ginger ale, and orange juice when I was sick. Nowadays, I alternate between water, tea, and coconut water.
I find that, even when an illness zaps my appetite for a bit, proper hydration helps ease my symptoms and sometimes helps me feel better faster.”
—Nadia Harris, Managing Editor
“I have year-round allergies and asthma, so I’m guilty of occasionally waiting too long to determine if my symptoms are connected to a cold.
If symptoms persist after allergy remedies, I amp up my water intake and add a once-daily cup of herbal tea — my go-to is a lemon ginger with fresh ginger and honey.
Migraines are a common symptom for me, so the aforementioned, in addition to cutting out screen time for at least 24 hours, work to combat headaches.”
—Taneasha White, Writer and Editor
“I’ve been using the same strategy to get relief from cold and flu symptoms for a long time:
- chicken soup
- tea with honey
- lots of fluids
- OTC pain reliever
- nasal spray to open up a stuffy nose
- pseudoephedrine (the kind they keep behind the pharmacy counter)
A few other tricks include gargling with warm saltwater to soothe a sore throat, propping myself up on a few pillows to get better sleep when I have a cough, and trying to rest as much as I can.
If those things aren’t working or my symptoms get worse, I call the doctor.”
—Heather Graham, Editorial Director
“My main tools for prevention during cold and flu season involve regular handwashing, staying hydrated from water to soup to juice, and, especially if I’m sick, wearing a mask when out in public spaces like the grocery store, school, and commuting with others.
For bad symptoms, getting bundled up, resting, and a mug of powdered cold and flu medicine are my go-tos.”
—Candice Abellon, Senior Editor
“For me, rest is the primary factor when dealing with a cold or flu. If I absolutely need to get something done, I’ll take a daytime cold medicine.
If I can truly just take time off and allow myself to rest, I recover much faster. I almost consider catching a cold or flu to be a sign I’ve been pushing myself too much in general and that my body is demanding I take time to relax.
I’ve also learned not to push myself too soon if I’m starting to feel better. Too often, I feel OK and start back into my full routine, only to end up feeling worse and dragging my cold out even longer.”
—Chrissie Moore, Editorial Director, Healthgrades
“When I’m beginning to feel something coming on, it’s a huge favor to myself to do some simple meal planning.
I focus on soups and stews for hearty, hydrating one-pot meals. Plus, they can easily be frozen and reheated to last for weeks.
I’m also a big fan of sipping bone broth to restore hydration and lost nutrients, especially when there’s tummy trouble involved.”
—Crystal Hoshaw, Senior Associate Editor