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Soothing Comforts For a Cold or the Flu

Resting in bed with the flu is important

Rest in bed

When you first come down with a cold or the flu, resting in bed is one of the best ways to boost your body's immune response to the invading virus.

Chicken Soup is good for a cold or the flu

Drink plenty of clear liquids

  • Staying well hydrated helps keep the mucous thin. When it is thin, the mucous is more easily drained from the sinuses and coughed up from the upper respiratory tract. Thick mucous that remains in the sinuses or respiratory tract is more likely to cause a secondary bacterial infection such as a sinus infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia.

  • Avoid milk and milk products as this will increase the mucous production

  • Warm liquids such as broth-based chicken soup relieve nasal congestion and are soothing to the inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat.


The smoke from cigarettes or a cigar is very irritating to the lungs which are already inflamed from a cold or the flu

Avoid Smoking, and Second-Hand Smoke

Smoke is irritating to the lungs, nasal passages and throat. Exposing tissue that is already inflamed to another irritation, has a good potential of increasing mucous production, and further aggravating the airways of the lungs causing wheezing and coughing.


Salt water is soothing to an inflamed throat

Gargle four times daily

Gargling with a teaspoon of salt dissolved in warm water provides temporary relief of an inflamed throat
Woman blowing nose

Blow your nose frequently

Get rid of the mucous instead of sniffling it back into your head where it can drain into your sinuses or down your throat into your lungs. The best way to blow your nose is to hold a finger over one nostril while you blow gently to clear the other. Wash your hands after blowing your nose and throw away tissue immediately to stop the spread of germs.
Ice pack

Hot packs or cold packs over the sinuses provide relief

Place warm moist hot packs or cold packs over congested sinuses for 20 minutes at a time.

Use whichever temperature feels best. You may also find relief by alternating hot and cold packs, 20 minutes at a time. This provides symptomatic relief, relieves inflammation, and helps the sinuses drain. It's most convenient to buy reusable hot and cold packs in a drug store or grocery store.

A bathroom shower provides therapeutic steam

Steam from a shower provides relief of nasal and sinus pain.

Steamy showers moisturize your nasal passages and may help loosen congestion. If you're dizzy or weak, run a steamy shower while you sit on a chair nearby. A cool-mist humidifier (vaporizer) may also help loosen congestion and make you more comfortable. Be sure to clean and dry the humidifier thoroughly each day to prevent bacterial or mold contamination.

Eating healthy foods is helpful to boost the immune system

Good nutrition is always important, if symptoms permit

There is no truth to the wives tale, "starve a fever and feed a cold". In fact, when you have a cold or the flu, you should be sure to eat healthful foods and drink plenty of fluids, but there is no need to eat more or less than usual. Avoiding milk and milk products is always a good idea to minimize the mucous production during a cold.

If there is any diarrhea or upset stomach, foods that are bland and low in fiber are often recommended by physicians. This diet is referred to as the BRAT diet: Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Coffee should be avoided, but tea tends to be well tolerated. Avoiding fried, greasy, or spicy foods as well as rich desserts during this time is important.

Over-the-counter cold remedies line the stores' shelves

Over-the-Counter cough, cold, and pain medications can be very helpful but can also be very harmful if you're not careful

These products line the store shelves and can provide a significant amount of daytime and night time relief of symptoms. It's a common misconception that these medications are safe because they are sold without a prescription. This is far from the truth and it's essential to read and understand the labels or ask the pharmacist for assistance.

Important note: Never Give Aspirin To a Child or Teenager Who Has the Flu or Flu-like symptoms because of the risk of Reye syndrome, a life-threatening illness. Always check with the doctor for all over-the-counter medications for children or elderly.

Salt water drops

Saline Nasal Spray (Ocean Nasal Spray or Drops) is the safest decongestant

Used every 2 hours, or as needed, is the safest method to help clear the nose and is the only decongestant recommended for the elderly. Nasal irrigation is also a popular method of thinning mucus and flushing it out of the nasal passages. Although several methods of nasal irrigation exist, one of the most popular is the Neti pot. Neti pots are available over-the-counter at many drug stores, health food stores, and online retailers. They usually cost between $10 and $20.

Honey helps a cough

Buckwheat honey is helpful for a cough

1/2 to 2 tsp of buckwheat honey before bedtime has been found to be helpful in suppressing a dry cough during sleep.

A recent study compared the effectiveness of dextromethoraphan (the active ingredient in OTC cough suppessants) to 1/2 to 2 tsp of buckwheat honey, and the honey was found to be more effective. (Honey should never be given to children less than 1 year old.)


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Written by N Thompson, ARNP, MSN and M Thompson MD, last updated October 2009  

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