Home remedies have been used for centuries to help relieve, cure or shorten the symptoms of common illnesses, such as the cold and flu. While viruses cannot be cured and must run their natural course, some home remedies can help. Richard Samuel, MD, medical director for Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, evaluates the effectiveness of popular home remedies used to treat colds, flu and other sinus conditions.

Chicken Soup

When treating a respiratory virus or sinus infection, chicken soup can help relieve congestion. Drinking hot liquids, such as teas and soup broths, can help break up mucus in your sinuses and relieve nasal congestion. In general, staying hydrated is one of the best ways to ease your symptoms. Be sure to avoid carbonated beverages and caffeine. These beverages can keep you awake and alert when your body needs rest.

Honey

Many people mix honey with hot tea or warm lemon water to clear mucous in their airway or to soothe an itchy, inflamed throat. Research shows that mixing honey with a hot beverage or eating small amounts of it alone may help you feel better. Honey has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that help remove and destroy harmful microorganisms that can reduce coughing and soothe a sore throat. This can help improve your quality of sleep and feel better. Remember to use small amounts, and never give honey to a child under the age of one.

Echinacea

The echinacea flower is commonly used in alternative medicine to fight off viruses and is widely available today in supplements, teas and juices. Researchers at NIH have concluded there is no strong evidence suggesting that echinacea products will prevent you from getting sick or helps you recover faster from viruses.

Gargling with Salt Water

Gargling with salt water is a good way to relieve a sore or scratchy throat.  Mixing a generous amount of table salt into warm water and then gargling it can help reduce throat swelling and irritation. This remedy is only recommended for adults and children who are at least six years old, because many younger children may not know how to gargle properly.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C plays a key role in your immune function, so many people who feel themselves getting sick will eat more citrus fruits, juice and supplements to fight their illness. Research suggests taking high amounts of vitamin C may not prevent you from getting sick if you’ve already caught a virus, but it could shorten the length of time you are sick. Whether you are sick or well, consuming at least 75 to 90 mg of vitamin C each day supports your overall immune function and health.

Applying Warm Compresses

Applying a warm compress is an effective way to ease pressure and inflammation you in your nose, cheeks and eyes from sinusitis or cold and flu viruses. To use this method, run hot water over a wet washcloth, squeeze it until damp and drape it across your nose, cheeks or forehead until you feel relief. You can safely do this several times a day. Running a humidifier to keep the air moist will also help relieve congestion.

Remember when you have a respiratory illness such as a cold, there is no substitute for rest and fluids. Rest and fluids will help your body heal and break up the excess mucus.

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, Mayo Clinic

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