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The flu (or influenza) is caused by a virus. Several kinds of viruses can give you the flu. While there’s no cure for the flu, there are natural remedies that might help soothe flu symptoms. They may also help shorten how long you have the flu.
We’ll review 10 natural remedies and explain how to use them, and why they can help.
Drinking water and other fluids is even more important when you have the flu. This is true whether you have a respiratory flu or a stomach flu.
Water helps to keep your nose, mouth, and throat moist. This helps your body get rid of built-up mucous and phlegm.
You can also get dehydrated if you aren’t eating or drinking normally. Diarrhea and fever (two common symptoms of a flu), can also cause water loss.
You can stay hydrated by consuming plenty of:
- coconut water
- sports drinks
- herbal tea
- fresh juice
- raw fruits and vegetables
You’ll know you’re drinking enough water and liquids if:
- you have to urinate regularly
- the color of your urine is almost clear or pale yellow
If your urine is a deep yellow to amber color, you may be dehydrated.
It’s also helpful to avoid smoking as much as possible since it can further irritate your nose, throat, and lungs.
It’s important to rest and get more sleep when you have the flu. Sleeping can help boost your immune system. This helps your body fight off the flu virus. Cancel your usual routine and make sleep a priority to help get you back on your feet.
Drinking warm chicken or beef bone broth is a good way to help you stay hydrated. It helps to loosen and break up nose and sinus congestion.
Bone broth is also naturally high in protein and minerals like sodium and potassium. Drinking broth is a good way to replenish these nutrients while you have the flu. Plus, protein is important for rebuilding immune cells.
You can buy ready-made varieties, but be sure to look for those that are low in sodium (salt). You can also make your own broth by boiling chicken or beef bones. You can freeze portions of broth for future use.
The mineral zinc is important for your immune system. This nutrient helps your body make germ-fighting white blood cells. Research shows that zinc might help ease cold and flu symptoms. Zinc helps your body fight the flu virus and may slow down how fast it multiplies.
You can take a zinc supplement or a multivitamin with zinc during flu season. You can normally get plenty of zinc from a balanced daily diet. Foods that are high in zinc include:
- red meat
A warm water and salt rinse (sometimes called a salt water gargle) can soothe a sore throat. It can also help to clear mucous. Here’s how to rinse with salt water:
- Boil or heat up water and let it cool until it’s warm or at room temperature. Mix 1/2 tsp salt to 8 ounces of warm water.
- Pull the salt water to the back of your throat and gargle it for about 10 to 30 seconds so that it rinses your mouth and throat.
- Spit the water into a sink and repeat 2 to 4 times.
Do not swallow the salt water. Do not allow children to gargle until they can safely gargle with plain water.
Several herbs have natural antiviral and antibacterial properties. Star anise is a star-shaped spice from which oseltamivir was traditionally extracted.
Oseltamivir phosphate (better known as Tamiflu) is a prescription drug used to speed recovery from or to prevent getting the flu. It’s antiviral properties are effective against some kinds of flu viruses. Other herbs and green leafy teas also have germ-fighting and antioxidant benefits.
An herbal tea may help your body fight off the flu virus. A hot herbal drink is also soothing to your throat and sinuses.
You can make a flu-fighting herbal tea with star anise and other herbs like:
Many bagged teas are available with these as dried ingredients combined together.
Some types of essential oils may help protect you against certain viruses and bacteria. One study found that tea tree oil helps to fight the flu virus by slowing or stopping the rate that the virus multiplies. According to the study, tea tree oil works best when it’s used within two hours of infection. This shows that it may help to block the flu virus from multiplying.
In practice, you might add a few drops of tea tree oil to liquid hand soap when you wash your hands or mixed into lotion you use. Some commercially made mouthwashes include it as an ingredient.
Other plant and herbal essential oils may also work as natural antibiotics and antivirals. These include:
- cinnamon oil
- peppermint oil
- eucalyptus oil
- geranium oil
- lemon oil
- thyme oil
- oregano oil
Use essential oils only as directed. Do not ingest essential oils, many are toxic. Most essential oils can be used on the skin after they’re mixed with oils like almond or olive oil. You can add fresh and dried herbs and spices to food to get similar benefits.
Diffusing essential oils into the air with a diffuser may also help against some kinds of viruses and bacteria. Be aware that aromatherapy has an influence on children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and pets.
The flu virus survives longer in dry indoor air. This may make the virus spread more easily. Colder, outdoor temperatures generally lower humidity in the air. Indoor air can get dry from heating and air conditioning use. Using a humidifier to add humidity in your home and workplace might help reduce flu viruses in the air.
Breathing in steam from a warm pot of water can help soothe your nose, sinuses, throat, and lungs. Steam inhalation or steam therapy uses water vapor to help loosen mucous congestion.
The warm moist air may also relieve swelling in the nose and lungs. Steam inhalation might help to soothe a dry cough, irritated nose, and chest tightness.
Ways you can heat water for steam:
- in a pot on the stove
- in a microwave-safe bowl or mug in the microwave
- in a vaporizer
Avoid steam from boiling water. Be careful to test the temperature of the steam before breathing it in. Keep your face and hands far enough away to avoid scalding or burning yourself. Add a few drops of essential oils or a medicated vapor rub to the water for added antiviral and antioxidant benefits.
If you have the stomach flu, eat small amounts of food at a time. Try hand-sized portions.
The stomach flu can give you nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. Bland foods are easier to digest and may help ease your stomach symptoms.
Foods that are easy on the stomach
- BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast)
- cooked cereals (oatmeal and cream of wheat)
- gelatin (Jell-O)
- boiled potatoes
- grilled or boiled chicken
- soup and broth
- electrolyte rich drinks
Avoid foods that may irritate your stomach and digestion.
Foods to avoid while you have the stomach flu
- spicy foods
- fried foods
- fatty foods
The flu typically causes respiratory — nose, throat, and lung — symptoms. Top flu symptoms are:
- body ache
- runny or stuffy nose
- sore throat
- dry cough
- tiredness and fatigue
The stomach flu is a flu virus that causes digestive symptoms. You might have:
- stomach cramps
The flu can sometimes lead to health complications. It can trigger other viral and bacterial infections in the lungs, throat, ears, and other areas. These include:
People who are at higher risk of complications from the flu include:
- children younger than 5 years
- adults 65 years or older
- people with other health conditions
If you have the flu, talk with a doctor if you also have a chronic health condition. These include:
- heart disease
- lung conditions
- kidney disease
- liver disease
- sickle cell anemia
Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications that help reduce symptoms and the length of the flu. These drugs work best when taken within two days of getting the flu.
See your doctor if you have:
- trouble breathing
- chest pain
- fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C)
- chills or sweating
- mucous that’s a strange color
- blood in your mucous
- severe cough
Viruses cause the flu and the common cold. Both kinds of infections can give you a fever. Cold and the flu viruses cause similar symptoms. The main differences between a flu and a cold are how bad the symptoms are and how long you have them for.
Flu symptoms begin suddenly and are typically severe. A flu can last for one to two weeks. Cold symptoms are typically milder. You might have a cold for a week or longer.
In most cases of the flu, you’ll likely not need to see a doctor. Stay home and don’t bring it to your workplace or school. Get a yearly flu vaccination. Drink fluids and rest.
Home remedies can help reduce symptoms so you can be more comfortable and rest more easily while you have the flu — and rest has a big impact on getting better faster.