The common cold is caused by over 200 different viruses that can attack the upper respiratory tract. (1) They are spread in the air from person to person.
People with a depressed immune system or nutrient deficiencies may be more prone to catching colds. Other common causes of catching a cold include: lack of sleep, emotional stress, mold exposure, an unhealthy digestive tract, and traveling. Many colds are head colds, which means symptoms like nasal congestion and watery eyes. You can also have a chest cold where congestion is in the chest and you have a cough.
If you’re wondering how to cure a cold in one day, I’m sorry to tell you that it might take a little longer than that. How long does a cold last for? Typically, a cold will be around at least three to seven days, but can linger as long as two weeks. The good news is there are plenty of natural cold remedies to help you kick your symptoms fast, and these remedies also help to prevent a cold, too!
What’s the best cold remedy? Let’s talk about your options and see which is the best cold remedy for you (you’ll likely choose more than one).
What Is the Common Cold?
The common cold is a viral infection of your nose and throat (upper respiratory tract). There are many kinds of viruses that cause a common cold. Symptoms of the common cold typically show up one to three days after you are exposed to a cold-causing virus.
Common cold symptoms can include: (2)
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Slight body aches or a mild headache
- Low-grade fever
- Generally feeling unwell (malaise)
Common Cold vs. Flu
Common colds as well as the flu are viral infections so they should never be treated with antibiotics. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus, and it results in more unpleasant symptoms than the common cold.
But like the common cold, the flu also attacks your respiratory system including your nose, throat and lungs. When you have the flu, at first you may think have a common cold with a sore throat, runny nose and sneezing. (Read about flu natural remedies here.)
A big difference between colds and the flu is that the flu usually hits you out of nowhere, while colds come on more slowly.
Flu symptoms can include: (3)
- Fever over 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C)
- Sore throat
- Aching muscles
- Chills and sweats
- Dry, persistent cough
- Fatigue and weakness
- Nasal congestion
Even though it can be very unpleasant, according to Mayo Clinic, the common cold is usually quite harmless. (2) The majority of people recover from a common cold in seven to 10 days. While the flu is more serious and can result in complications that can even be deadly in high risk groups, The Mayo Clinic also points out that “for most people, influenza resolves on its own.” (3)
Natural Cold Remedies and Prevention
How do you cure a cold fast? Other than lots of rest, you can use natural cold remedies including helpful foods, drinks, herbs, supplements and essentials oil to help yourself feel better fast. You can also avoid certain things that are known to make cold symptoms worse.
These home remedies for cold are also all helpful for preventing a cold in the first place! So if someone around you is already sick with a cold, you can use some of these same remedies to guard yourself from contracting a cold virus yourself.
What is the best medicine for a cold? In my book, the best cold remedy will always be both natural and highly effective. Let’s take a look at some awesome home remedies for cold and cough that you probably already have on hand today!
Top Food and Drink for Colds
Bone Broth — Bone broth contains amino acids and minerals that naturally support immunity. In fact, research has shown that chicken soup is a classic cold remedy for very good reason; it actually does have beneficial medicinal activity and anti-inflammatory properties. (4) Plus, as a hot liquid, it’s an excellent choice for flushing out mucous build up. (5) Consume soup made of real bone broth and anti-inflammatory vegetables.
Water — This is probably the most simple and basic of common cold remedies, but don’t underestimate how important it is! Adequate hydration is the key to preventing dehydration and loosening up that nasty congestion. (6) Becoming dehydrated can only make a head cold feel that much worse. Try to drink at least eight ounces of water every two hours. This is one of the simplest yet most important chest and head cold remedies.
Hot water with lemon, honey and cinnamon — This is a great mixture that can help to prevent mucus buildup while also keeping you hydrated. Honey has been shown to work just as well as the ingredients typically found in over-the-counter cough medicine! (7) Try this tasty cold-fighting beverage at night to help relieve cold symptoms, especially a cough. It’s also one of the classic Indian home remedies for cold.
Ginger — A scientific review published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that ginger extract contains anti-inflammatory compounds like gingerol, shogaol, paradol and zingerone. (8) Trying make a ginger tea and add raw honey to ease the inflammation of that sore throat, runny nose and cough.
Garlic— Garlic can really help to boost immune function with its antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties, which are often attributed to compound it contains called allicin. (9) You many be wondering: how can I shorten my cold? Try including both cooked and raw garlic in your meals to kill off that cold-causing virus.
Food to Avoid
Sugar — Research shows that sugar weakens the ability of white blood cells that help fight off infection. So high glucose levels in the blood due to sugar intake actually weaken the immune system. High sugar diets also promote inflammation in the body. (10, 11)
Fruit juices — Although orange juice and other juices contain some vitamin C, it is not as high in vitamin C as whole fruits or vegetables. Plus, fruit juices are loaded with sugar but don’t have the beneficial and blood sugar–balancing fiber of a whole fruit. If you want to drink juice, dilute it with water.
Conventional Dairy — Pasteurized milk and other dairy products can make congestion even worse. According to Mayo Clinic, drinking milk can make phlegm thicker and more irritating to your throat than it would normally be. (12) Avoiding conventional dairy is one of those simple cold remedies that can really go a long way to improve symptoms.
Processed and Fast Food — “Empty calories” that have no nutrients for supporting your immune system and are toxic to the body. Overly processed fast food is one of the last things you want to eat when you’re sick (or well). To fight off a cold virus, you want to be eating the most nutrient-rich food possible.
Refined grains — Breads, pastas, cereals and white flour products quickly turn into sugar and weaken immunity. Diets high in refined starches like these are also known to encourage inflammation. (13) When you have a cold (or truly anytime) you want to keep bodily inflammation as low as possible for optimal health.
Herbs and Supplements
Here are some more natural common cold remedies that are backed by scientific research:
Vitamin C (1,000 mg 3-4x daily)
Vitamin C helps to boost immune system function, and some research even shows it may shorten the duration of cold symptoms. (14) Should you supplement with vitamin C for colds? You certainly can! It’s also easy to get more vitamin C in your diet from all kinds of fruits and vegetables, including bell peppers, spinach, kale, broccoli, grapefruits, and kiwi.
Echinacea (1,000 mg 2-3x daily)
It’s best to take echinacea at the first sign of illness. A meta-analysis published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases reviewed the result of 14 clinical trials and concludes that echinacea cuts the chances of catching a common cold by 58 percent, and it also reduces the duration of the common cold by almost one-and-a-half days. (15)
Elderberry (10 mL daily)
Elderberry is another one of my favorite natural cold remedies backed by science. It’s high in vitamin C and other immune-boosting antioxidants. A 2016 study published in Nutrients demonstrates how elderberry supplementation can decrease the duration and symptoms of a cold in air travelers. Travelers took the herb from 10 days before travel until four to five days after arriving overseas, and they experienced an average two-day decrease in cold duration and also a noticeable reduction in cold symptoms. (16)
Oregano Oil (500 mg 2x daily)
Have you ever tried using oil of oregano for colds? Oregano oil with its major component, carvacrol, has been shown to have powerful antiviral and anti-bacterial effects. (17) It’s important to note that oregano oil is so powerful that it should only be taken for 10 days at a time and then cycle off.
Zinc (50-100 mg daily)
Zinc supports immune function and has an antiviral effect. It works best when taken at the first sign of illness. Research published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that when zinc was taken within 24 hours of the onset of cold-related symptoms, the symptoms lasted a significantly shorter period of time versus the control group that did not supplement with any zinc. In addition, fewer patients who took zinc experienced cold symptoms five and seven days after experiencing initial symptoms compared to those who did not take zinc. (18)
Bonus Cold Remedies:
Getting adequate sleep is vitally important in overcoming a cold. Go to bed early and aim for nine to 10 hours of sleep. Vitamin D 5,000 IU 2x daily can also help strengthen the immune system. (19)
Essential Oils for Colds
When talking about natural and quick cold remedies, we can’t forget about essential oils! Here are some of my top picks for cold-fighting essential oils:
- Eucalyptus essential oil has a long history of use for respiratory inflammation that accompanies the common cold, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and sinusitis. (20) Breathing in the oil or applying it topically as part of a homemade vapor rub can really open up the sinuses and lungs and improve coughs too.
- Peppermint oil is also a part of that vapor rub recipe for good reason. Lab studies show that peppermint oil has antiviral, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties making it a great option for fighting a cold. (21) You can diffuse five drops of peppermint or apply two to three drops topically to your temples, chest and back of neck.
- Frankincense essential oil has been shown to have “strong immunostimulant activity,” so it’s a another great choice for naturally boosting the immune system. (22) Add a few drops to a cloth and inhale for the respiratory benefits or use it in an oil diffuser.
- Oregano essential oil can be taken internally as a supplement, as I mentioned earlier. You can also employ its virus-fighting power by diffusing it and using it topically. To fight a cold fast, try diluting it with a carrier oil and applying it topically to the soles of your feet each night before bed.
- Clove essential oil is yet another essential oil with known antiviral properties. (23) To boost the immune system, diffuse clove oil or apply it topically with a carrier oil.
Cold Remedies History and Interesting Facts
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History actually has a pretty interesting collection of old school common cold remedies. You won’t find these old cold remedies available today for very good reason. For example, Marshall’s Med. Cigarettes, which were available in the 1940s for minor bronchial and throat irritations due to colds. Hard to believe, but true!
Wondering how do you get rid of a cold overnight? Well, back in the early 20th century some people thought that how to cure a cold fast overnight would be accomplished by taking something called “One Minute Cough Cure.”
The claims for this potion were very strong including that it offered “immediate relief and permanent cure” of all diseases of the throat, bronchial tubes and lungs, including pneumonia, bronchitis, coughs, colds, asthma, whooping cough, sore throat, difficult respiration, pains in the chest, night sweats and hemorrhages of the lungs. So what’s in this seemingly miraculous remedy? Tar (yes, tar!) is the No. 1 ingredient followed by wild cherry followed by “etc.” (24)
Aren’t we glad that ingredient labels can no longer include “etc” these days? I think so!
If you have any ongoing medication conditions or are currently taking medication, consult with your doctor before using any herbs, supplements or essentials oils. It’s also important to check with your child’s pediatrician if you’re unsure whether or not any natural home remedies for cold and flu are safe and age appropriate for your child.
To decrease the likelihood of topical sensitivity to essential oils, it’s smart to perform a patch test first. While some essential oils can safely be used topically in their pure form, if you know you have sensitive skin then it’s best to dilute essential oils with a carrier oil like coconut oil before application. Certain essential oils such as oregano essential oil should always be diluted before topical use.
Always make sure you are using 100 percent, organic and therapeutic grade essential oils to ensure safety as well as effectiveness.
- How long does cold virus last? Typically, three to seven days but it can take longer to fully recover.
- What’s the best cold remedy? Top things to consume when fighting a cold include: water; nutrient-rich bone broth; a mixture of lemon, honey, cinnamon and hot water; ginger; and garlic.
- What to avoid to improve cold symptoms fast: sugar; high sugar foods and beverages like fruit juices; conventional dairy products; processed and fast food; and refined carbohydrates.
- How do you get rid of a cold overnight without medicine? It may not happen overnight, but herbs and supplements known to help fight a cold and/or even shorten its duration include vitamin C, echinacea, elderberry, oil of oregano, zinc and vitamin D.
- Essentials oils of eucalyptus, peppermint, frankincense, oregano and clove are amazing natural cold remedies that can be diffused, applied topically and/or used internally.
- Now that you know these natural cold remedies that work fast, I hope you’ll stay away from questionable over-the-counter common cold remedies that can often come with many questionable side effects.