How To Feel Better When You Have A Nasty Cold

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Summer is over (for real). So it's time to face the facts: You're going to get a cold. Actually, you're probably going to get colds — plural. The average American gets between two and five colds every single year and these bugs are pretty much unavoidable, unless you live in a bubble.

To make matters worse, there's the fact that the common cold doesn't have a cure. If your symptoms are caused by bacteria, your doctor may give you antibiotics. But most colds are viral, meaning antibiotics won't do squat.

If you're sick of getting sick, we don't blame you. The good news is that the cold is self-limiting, which means it'll only last for a predictable (and short!) period of time. That's because the usual symptoms of a cold — sneezing, runny nose, coughing — are really just byproducts of your body trying to rid itself of the virus, not the virus itself.

And the best news is that there are some science-backed ways to feel better while you're counting down those days. Again, these won't cure or prevent your cold, but they might make your life a little easier while your body does its job.
1 of 8
Photo: Stock Connection/REX/Shutterstock.
Raid Your Spice Cabinet

There are probably a million different spices out there with some supposed benefit. But one in particular — oregano — has seen a lot of interest recently. For instance, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that that oregano essential oil could take out the norovirus. In other lab studies, researchers have shown that oregano essential oil can kill bacteria.

Of course, what that means for you as a person outside of a petri dish remains to be seen. And, remember that your cold is almost certainly a viral infection, not a bacterial one. However, it is possible to have too much of it and some people have experienced allergic reactions. So, if you’re up for an experiment, you can put a few drops of the oil in a diffuser and inhale to help clear up congestion associated with the common cold or a sinus infection. But, as with all herbal remedies, do so with caution.
2 of 8
Photographed by Janelle Jones.
Grab Some Marshmallow (Root)

Marshmallow root (not to be confused with just marshmallow) has long been used as an herbal remedy for sore throats. And there is some research to suggest that, when taken as a syrup, it can soothe coughs associated with the common cold and bronchitis.

Sadly we’re not talking about the sweet, fluffy candy. Instead, we’re talking about the plant from which the confection was originally made. (These days they’re pretty much all sugar.) But we wouldn’t blame you if you tried a bit of each, you know, for science.
3 of 8
Photographed by Ben Ritter.
Don't Forget Your Soup

It's true — soup can ease your cold symptoms. But it doesn’t have to be chicken noodle. Research shows that really any hot, liquid-y meal with a lot of flavor will make you feel better. That could be ramen, curry, or just a cup of strong tea.
4 of 8
Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Take Your Vitamin C

No, your megadose of vitamin C isn't going to prevent the common cold or immediately make your symptoms go away. But after looking at 31 studies, researchers concluded that taking vitamin C supplements when you're sick might cut your cold short by a full day.
5 of 8
Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Put Honey In Your Tea

Several studies have suggested that honey can actually soothe a cough at least as well as over-the-counter medications. For instance, in a 2007 study, parents preferred to give their kids buckwheat honey over honey-flavored dextromethorphan (an active ingredient in NyQuil) for nighttime coughs.
6 of 8
Photographed by Brayden Olson.
Take A Hot Shower

A nice, hot shower can help clear your sinuses out. But there may be another less-obvious reason to take one when you're sick: Researchers recently found that humidity makes it harder for cold-causing viruses to linger in the air. That could be one reason why we have fewer colds during the hot-and-sticky summer months. So while that won't make your cold go away any faster, it might make it less likely to spread to your roommates.
7 of 8
Photographed by Refinery29.
Gargle Some Saltwater

Doctors (and parents) have long recommend warm gargling saltwater for any throat-related cold symptoms. That's because the salt actually draws liquid out of the tissue in your throat, temporarily easing soreness and swelling. But a 2005 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that it might also help prevent future respiratory illnesses, too.

If you want to give it a shot, Mayo Clinic recommends mixing up to 1/2 teaspoon of salt into eight ounces of warm water. Then, you simply gargle away. You don't have to swallow it, but don't worry if you do so accidentally — you're probably dehydrated, anyway.
8 of 8
Photographed by Danny Kim.
Eat (A Little) Garlic

Garlic might not be your first choice if you've got that distinctly gross "cold taste" in your mouth, but there's mounting research that it's got both antibacterial and antiviral properties. A large review found the current research unconvincing, but still somewhat promising: Only one study found that garlic could reduce the amount of colds you get in a year.

Still, there are anecdotal reports that eating garlic (or taking garlic supplements) while you're sick can help ease your symptoms.

More from Body


R29 Original Series