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Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza) Contributions by ColleenO

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I don't have a specific product to recommend, but I do know that it's REALLY important to use and maintain humidifiers according to the manufacturer's instructions. Otherwise, they can harbor and distribute molds and other irritating elements, ultimately doing more harm than good.

Another way to get the benefits of humidity and aromatherapy is to add a little essential oil to your bath or shower (plug the tub while you shower and add essential oil drops to the water that collects around your feet).

I don't have a specific product to recommend, but I do know that it's REALLY important to use and maintain humidifiers according to the manufacturer's instructions. Otherwise, they can harbor and...

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Various foods and supplements can help prevent and/or treat colds and flus.

Foods:

  • Honey appears to improve nighttime cough and sleep disruption in children.1 (Note: Do not give honey to infants younger than 12 months.)
  • Warm fluids like tea and soup are soothing and help relieve congestion. Tea with honey is especially helpful if you have a sore throat. One small study found that the popular "Throat Coat" brand of medicinal tea actually does reduce sore throat discomfort, as compared to placebo tea.2
  • Chicken soup is a popular home remedy for colds. Researchers have developed theories to explain the apparent healing properties of chicken soup. Some believe that steam from the hot soup clears congested noses and throats. Others believe that it may have inherent anti-inflammatory effects, thereby providing symptom relief. Still others say it is purely psychological.

Supplements:

  • Vitamin C: Based on research, this popular supplement is probably more effective at mildly reducing symptoms of a cold than preventing you from getting sick in the first place.
  • Zinc: Taking zinc supplements might help prevent and treat colds, and potentially flus, too. (Zinc can also be effective in topical form.)
  • Probiotics: "Friendly bacteria" have have shown great promise for preventing colds, as well as increasing the effectiveness of flu vaccines.
  • L-glutamine (glutamine) has demonstrated strong potential for preventing post-exercise colds in endurance athletes.
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  1. Dorn M. Plant immunostimulant alleviates symptoms of the common cold. Double-blind study involving 100 patients [translated from German]. Natur und Ganzheitsmedizin. 1989;2:314-319.
  2. Braunig B, Dorn M, Limburg E, et al. Echinacea purpurearadix for strengthening the immune response in flu-like infections [translated from German]. Z Phytother. 1992;13:7-13.
  3. Brinkeborn R, Shah D, Geissbuhler S, et al. Echinaforce® in the treatment of acute colds. Results of a placebo-controlled double-blind study carried out in Sweden. Schweiz Zschr Ganzheits Medizin. 1998;10:26-29.
  4. Dorn M, Knick E, Lewith G. Placebo-controlled, double-blind study of Echinacea pallidae radix in upper respiratory tract infections. Complement Ther Med. 1997;5:40-42.
  5. Lindenmuth GF, Lindenmuth EB. The efficacy of echinacea compound herbal tea preparation on the severity and duration of upper respiratory and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. J Altern Complement Med. 2000;6:327-334.
  6. Hoheisel O, Sandberg M, Bertram S, et al. Echinagard treatment shortens the course of the common cold: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur J Clin Res. 1997;9:261-268.
  7. Schulten B, Bulitta M, Ballering-Bruhl B, et al. Efficacy of Echinacea purpurea in patients with a common cold. A placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Arzneimittelforschung. 2001;51:563-568.
  8. Melchart D, Linde K, Worku F, et al. Immunomodulation with echinacea: A systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Phytomedicine. 1994;1:245-254.
  9. Schulten B, Bulitta M, Ballering-Bruhl B, et al. Efficacy of Echinacea purpurea in patients with a common cold. A placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Arzneimittelforschung. 2001;51:563-568.
  10. Brinkeborn R, Shah D, Geissbuhler S, et al. Echinaforce® in the treatment of acute colds. Results of a placebo-controlled double-blind study carried out in Sweden. Schweiz Zschr Ganzheits Medizin. 1998;10:26-29.
  11. Hoheisel O, Sandberg M, Bertram S, et al. Echinagard treatment shortens the course of the common cold: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur J Clin Res. 1997;9:261-268.
  12. Melchart D, Walther E, Linde K, et al. Echinacea root extracts for the prevention of upper respiratory tract infections: a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial. Arch Fam Med. 1998;7:541-545.
  13. Grimm W, Muller H. A randomized controlled trial of the effect of fluid extract of Echinacea purpurea on the incidence and severity of colds and respiratory infections. Am J Med. 1999;106:138-143.
  14. Schoneberger D. The influence of immune-stimulating effects of pressed juice from Echinacea purpurea on the course and severity of colds. (Results of a double-blind study) [translated from German]. Forum Immunol. 1992;8:2-12.
  15. Calabrese C. Bastyr University. Unpublished communication.
  16. Turner RB, Riker DK, Gangemi JD. Ineffectiveness of echinacea for prevention of experimental rhinovirus colds. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2000;44:1708-1709.
  17. Schmidt U, Albrecht M, Schenk N. Immunostimulator decreases the frequency of influenza-like syndromes. Double-blind placebo-controlled trial on 646 students of the University of Cologne [in German; English abstract]. Natur und Ganzheitsmedizin. 1990;3:277-281.
  18. Schwarz E, Metzler J, Diedrich JP, et al. Oral administration of freshly expressed juice of Echinacea purpurea herbs fail to stimulate the nonspecific immune response in healthy young men: results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study. J Immunother. 2002;25:413-420.
  19. South EH, Exon JH. Multiple immune functions in rats fed echinacea extracts. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2001;23:411-421.
  20. Henneicke-von Zepelin HH, Hentschel C, Schnitker J, et al. Efficacy and safety of a fixed combination phytomedicine in the treatment of the common cold (acute viral respiratory tract infection): results of a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, multicentre study. Curr Med Res Opin. 1999;15:214-227.
  21. Vorberg G. Bei For Colds, Stimulate the Nonspecific Immune System. Arztliche Praxis. 1984;36:97-98.
  22. Goel V, Lovlin R, Barton R, et al. Efficacy of a standardized echinacea preparation (EchinilinTM) for the treatment of the common cold: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2004;29:75-84.
  23. Yale SY, Liu K. Echinacea purpurea therapy for the treatment of the common cold. Arch Intern Med. 2004;164:1237-1241.
  24. Taylor JA, Weber W, Standish L, et al. Efficacy and safety of echinacea in treating upper respiratory tract infections in children: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2003;290:2824-30.
  25. Sperber SJ, Shah LP, Gilbert RD, et al. Echinacea purpurea for prevention of experimental rhinovirus colds. Clin Infect Dis. 2004;38:1367-71.
  26. Cohen HA, Varsano I, Kahan E, et al. Effectiveness of an herbal preparation containing echinacea, propolis, and vitamin C in preventing respiratory tract infections in children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158:217-21.
  27. Wustenberg P, Henneicke-von Zepelin HH, Kohler G, et al. Efficacy and mode of action of an immunomodulator herbal preparation containing Echinacea, wild indigo, and white cedar. Adv Ther. 1999;16:51-70.
  28. Naser B, Lund B, Henneicke-von Zepelin HH, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical dose-response trial of an extract of Baptisia, Echinacea and Thuja for the treatment of patients with common cold. Phytomedicine. 2005;12:715-22.
  29. Goel V, Lovlin R, Chang C, et al. A proprietary extract from the echinacea plant (Echinacea purpurea) enhances systemic immune response during a common cold. Phytother Res. 2005 Sep 21. [Epub ahead of print]
  30. Schwarz E, Parlesak A, Henneicke-von Zepelin HH, et al. Effect of oral administration of freshly pressed juice of Echinacea purpurea on the number of various subpopulations of B- and T-lymphocytes in healthy volunteers: results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over study. Phytomedicine. 2005;12:625-631.
  31. Linde K, Barrett B, Wolkart K, et al. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;CD000530.
  32. Turner RB, Bauer R, Woelkart K, et al. An evaluation of Echinacea angustifolia in experimental rhinovirus infections. N Engl J Med. 2005;353:341-348.
  33. Hall H, Fahlman MM, Engels HJ. Echinacea Purpurea and Mucosal Immunity. Int J Sports Med. 2007 Apr 13. [Epub ahead of print]
  34. O'Neil J, Hughes S, Lourie A, et al. Effects of echinacea on the frequency of upper respiratory tract symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008;100:384-388.
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A signficant amount of research has been conducted to investigate the role of echinacea in preventing and treating the common cold.

Reducing the Symptoms and Duration of Colds

Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies enrolling a total of more than 1,000 people have found that various forms and species of echinacea can reduce the symptoms and duration of a common cold, at least in adults.14-21,115,145

For example, in one double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 80 individuals with early cold symptoms were given either E. purpurea extract or placebo.22 The results showed that individuals who were given echinacea recovered significantly more quickly: in just 6 days among the echinacea group versus 9 days among the placebo group.

Another double-blind, placebo-controlled trial looked at reduction of the severity of cold symptoms.23 The results in 246 participants showed that treatment with E. purpurea significantly improved cold symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, and fatigue. Symptom reduction with E. purpurea was also seen in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 282 people.115

In addition, three double-blind, placebo-controlled studies enrolling a total of about 600 participants found similar benefits with a combination product containing E. purpurea and E. pallida root, along with wild indigo and white pine.106-107,140-141

While the above evidence tends to suggest that the above-ground portion of E. purpurea is active against the common cold, two studies have failed to find benefit. One of these was a double-blind, placebo-controlled study enrolling 120 adults,116 the other an even larger trial (407 participants) involving children.117 The reason for these negative outcomes is not clear. E. angustifolia root has also failed to prove effective in a large study.148

Aborting a Cold

A double-blind study suggests that echinacea can not only make colds shorter and less severe, it might also be able to stop a cold that is just starting.24 In this study, 120 people were given E. purpurea or a placebo as soon as they started showing signs of getting a cold.

Participants took either echinacea or placebo at a dosage of 20 drops every 2 hours for 1 day, then 20 drops 3 times a day for a total of up to 10 days of treatment. The results were promising. Fewer people in the echinacea group felt that their initial symptoms actually developed into "real" colds (40% of those taking echinacea versus 60% taking the placebo actually became ill). Also, among those who did come down with "real" colds, improvement in the symptoms started sooner in the echinacea group (4 days instead of 8 days). Both of these results were statistically significant.

Preventing Colds

Several studies have attempted to discover whether the daily use of echinacea can prevent colds from even starting, but the results have not been promising. Echinacea shows the most prevention promise for post-exercise infections.160 (Glutamine and vitamin C are also helpful for this specific purpose.)

In one double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 302 healthy volunteers were given an alcohol tincture containing either E. purpurea root, E. angustifolia root, or placebo for 12 weeks.25 The results showed that E. purpurea was associated with perhaps a 20% decrease in the number of people who got sick, and E. angustifolia with a 10% decrease. However, the difference was not statistically significant. This means that the benefit, if any, was so small that it could have been due to chance alone.

Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study enrolled 109 individuals with a history of four or more colds during the previous year and gave them either E. purpurea juice or placebo for a period of 8 weeks.26 No benefits were seen in the frequency, duration, or severity of colds. (Note: This paper is actually a more detailed look at a 1992 study widely misreported as providing evidence of benefit.27)

Four other studies also failed to find statistically significant preventive effects.90,91,118,169

A study often cited as evidence that echinacea can prevent colds actually found no benefit in the 609 participants taken on whole.92 Only by looking at subgroups of participants (a statistically questionable procedure) could researchers find any evidence of benefit, and it was still slight.

However, a recent study using a combination product containing echinacea, propolis, and vitamin C did find preventive benefits.119 In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 430 children ages 1 to 5 years were given either the combination or placebo for 3 months during the winter. The results showed a statistically significant reduction in frequency of respiratory infections. It is not clear which of the components of this mixture was responsible for the apparent benefits seen.

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Until the 1930s, echinacea was the number one cold and flu remedy in the United States. It lost its popularity with the arrival of sulfa antibiotics. Ironically, sulfa antibiotics are as ineffective against colds as any other antibiotic, while echinacea does seem to be at least somewhat helpful. In Germany, echinacea remains the main remedy for minor respiratory infections.

Echinacea has shown promise for reducing the symptoms and duration of colds and aborting a cold once it has started. However, echinacea does not appear to be helpful for preventing colds, except in athletes (see Research Evidence). (Ginseng has shown strong prevention potential.) It may also not be effective in children.

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L-glutamine, also known as glutamine, is an amino acid derived from another amino acid, glutamic acid. It is known to help prevent post-exercise infections, such as the "post-marathon sniffle," a cold that develops after endurance exercise. (Vitamin C has and echinacea have also shown promise for the prevention of post-exercise infections.)

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  1. Shao A, Hathcock JN. Risk assessment for the amino acids taurine, L-glutamine and L-arginine. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 50(3):376-99.
  2. Castell LM, Poortmans JR, Newsholme EA. Does glutamine have a role in reducing infections in athletes? Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1996;73:488-490.
  3. Castell LM, Newsholme EA. Glutamine and the effects of exhaustive exercise upon the immune response. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1998;76:524-532.
  4. Rohde T, MacLean DA, Hartkopp A, et al. The immune system and serum glutamine during a triathlon. Eur J Appl Physiol. 1996;74:428-434.
  5. Rowbottom DG, Keast D, Morton AR. The emerging role of glutamine as an indicator of exercise stress and overtraining. Sports Med. 1996;21:80-97.
  6. Castell LM, Newsholme EA. The effects of oral glutamine supplementation on athletes after prolonged, exhaustive exercise. Nutrition. 1997;13:738-742.
  7. Mackinnon LT, Hooper SL. Plasma glutamine and upper respiratory tract infection during intensified training in swimmers. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996;28:285-290.
  8. Castell LM, Poortmans JR, Newsholme EA. Does glutamine have a role in reducing infections in athletes? Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1996;73:488-490.
  9. Hall H, Fahlman MM, Engels HJ. Echinacea Purpurea and Mucosal Immunity. Int J Sports Med. 2007 Apr 13. [Epub ahead of print]
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Typical therapeutic dosages of glutamine used in studies range from 3 to 30 g daily, divided into several separate doses. There is strong evidence that glutamine is safe at levels up to 14 g per day, and probably higher.1

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  • Integrative MD
  • Naturopathic doctor
  • Nutritionist
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  1. Shao A, Hathcock JN. Risk assessment for the amino acids taurine, L-glutamine and L-arginine. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 50(3):376-99.
  2. Castell LM, Poortmans JR, Newsholme EA. Does glutamine have a role in reducing infections in athletes? Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1996;73:488-490.
  3. Castell LM, Newsholme EA. Glutamine and the effects of exhaustive exercise upon the immune response. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1998;76:524-532.
  4. Rohde T, MacLean DA, Hartkopp A, et al. The immune system and serum glutamine during a triathlon. Eur J Appl Physiol. 1996;74:428-434.
  5. Rowbottom DG, Keast D, Morton AR. The emerging role of glutamine as an indicator of exercise stress and overtraining. Sports Med. 1996;21:80-97.
  6. Castell LM, Newsholme EA. The effects of oral glutamine supplementation on athletes after prolonged, exhaustive exercise. Nutrition. 1997;13:738-742.
  7. Mackinnon LT, Hooper SL. Plasma glutamine and upper respiratory tract infection during intensified training in swimmers. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996;28:285-290.
  8. Castell LM, Poortmans JR, Newsholme EA. Does glutamine have a role in reducing infections in athletes? Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1996;73:488-490.
  9. Hall H, Fahlman MM, Engels HJ. Echinacea Purpurea and Mucosal Immunity. Int J Sports Med. 2007 Apr 13. [Epub ahead of print]
... (more)

There is some evidence that the supplement glutamine may, like vitamin C, help prevent post-exercise infections.78-83 For example, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluated the benefits of supplemental glutamine (5 g) taken at the end of exercise in 151 endurance athletes.84 The result showed a significant decrease in infections among treated athletes. Only 19% of the athletes taking glutamine got sick, as compared to 51% of those on placebo. Echinacea has also shown a bit of promise for this purpose.160

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Glutamine plays a role in the health of the immune system, as well as other bodily functions. Heavy exercise and other stressors can deplete the body's glutamine reserves, particularly in muscle cells. This is probably why supplementing with glutamine is useful for preventing exercise-induced infections.

... (more)

L-glutamine, also known as glutamine, is an amino acid derived from another amino acid, glutamic acid. It is known to help prevent post-exercise infections, such as the "post-marathon sniffle," a cold that develops after endurance exercise. (Vitamin C and echinacea have also shown promise for the prevention of post-exercise infections.)

... (more)

Glutamine plays a role in the health of the immune system, as well as other bodily functions. Heavy exercise and other stressors can deplete the body's glutamine reserves, particularly in muscle cells. This is probably why supplementing with glutamine is useful for preventing exercise-induced infections.

... (more)

There are direct connections between stress and immune health. Chronic stress tends to suppress the immune system, making you more prone to getting sick with a cold or flu. Finding ways to relax and manage stress is one of the best ways to stay healthy during cold and flu season. Keeping stress in check means that you will be less likely to get sick in the first place; if you get sick, you will recover faster.

... (more)

Various foods and supplements can help prevent and/or treat colds and flus.

Foods:

  • Honey appears to improve nighttime cough and sleep disruption in children.1 (Note: Do not give honey to infants younger than 12 months.)
  • Warm fluids like tea and soup are soothing and help relieve congestion. Tea with honey is especially helpful if you have a sore throat. One small study found that the popular "Throat Coat" brand of medicinal tea actually does reduce sore throat discomfort, as compared to placebo tea.2
  • Chicken soup is a popular home remedy for colds. Researchers have developed theories to explain the apparent healing properties of chicken soup. Some believe that steam from the hot soup clears congested noses and throats. Others believe that it may have inherent anti-inflammatory effects, thereby providing symptom relief. Still others say it is purely psychological.

Supplements:

  • Vitamin C: Based on research, this popular supplement is probably more effective at mildly reducing symptoms of a cold than preventing you from getting sick in the first place.
  • Zinc: Taking zinc supplements might help prevent and treat colds, and potentially flus, too. (Zinc can also be effective in topical form.)
  • Probiotics: "Friendly bacteria" have have shown great promise for preventing colds, as well as increasing the effectiveness of flu vaccines.
  • L-glutamine (glutamine) has demonstrated strong potential for preventing post-exercise colds in endurance athletes.
... (more)
  1. Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, et al. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161:1149-1153
  2. Brinckmann J, Sigwart H, van Houten Taylor L. Safety and efficacy of a traditional herbal medicine (Throat Coat) in symptomatic temporary relief of pain in patients with acute pharyngitis: a multicenter, prospective, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study. J Altern Complement Med. 2003;9:285-298.
... (more)

Various foods and supplements can help prevent and/or treat colds and flus.

Foods:

plements

  • Honey appears to improve nighttime cough and sleep disruption in children.1 (Note: Do not give honey to infants younger than 12 months.)
  • Warm fluids like tea and soup are soothing and help relieve congestion. Tea with honey is especially helpful if you have a sore throat. One small study found that the popular "Throat Coat" brand of medicinal tea actually does reduce sore throat discomfort, as compared to placebo tea.2
  • Chicken soup is a popular home remedy for colds. Researchers have developed theories to explain the apparent healing properties of chicken soup. Some believe that steam from the hot soup clears congested noses and throats. Others believe that it may have inherent anti-inflammatory effects, thereby providing symptom relief. Still others say it is purely psychological.

Supplements:

  • Vitamin C: Based on research, this popular supplement is probably more effective at mildly reducing symptoms of a cold than preventing you from getting sick in the first place.
  • Zinc: Taking zinc supplements might help prevent and treat colds, and potentially flus, too. (Zinc can also be effective in topical form.)
  • Probiotics: "Friendly bacteria" have have shown great promise for preventing colds, as well as increasing the effectiveness of flu vaccines.
  • L-glutamine (glutamine) has demonstrated strong potential for preventing post-exercise colds in endurance athletes.
... (more)
  1. Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, et al. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161:1149-1153
  2. Brinckmann J, Sigwart H, van Houten Taylor L. Safety and efficacy of a traditional herbal medicine (Throat Coat) in symptomatic temporary relief of pain in patients with acute pharyngitis: a multicenter, prospective, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study. J Altern Complement Med. 2003;9:285-298.
... (more)

Various foods and supplements can help prevent and/or treat colds and flus.

Foods:

  • Honey appears to improve nighttime cough and sleep disruption in children.1 (Note: Do not give honey to infants younger than 12 months.)
  • Warm fluids like tea and soup are soothing and help relieve congestion. Tea with honey is especially helpful if you have a sore throat. One small study found that the popular "Throat Coat" brand of medicinal tea actually does reduce sore throat discomfort, as compared to placebo tea.2
  • Chicken soup is a popular home remedy for colds. Researchers have developed theories to explain the apparent healing properties of chicken soup. Some believe that steam from the hot soup clears congested noses and throats. Others believe that it may have inherent anti-inflammatory effects, thereby providing symptom relief. Still others say it is purely psychological.

Supplements:

  • Vitamin C: Based on research, this popular supplement is probably more effective at mildly reducing symptoms of a cold than preventing you from getting sick in the first place.
  • Zinc: Taking zinc supplements might help prevent and treat colds, and potentially flus, too. (Zinc can also be effective in topical form.)
  • Probiotics: "Friendly bacteria" have have shown great promise for preventing colds, as well as increasing the effectiveness of flu vaccines.
  • L-glutamine (glutamine) has demonstrated strong potential for preventing post-exercise colds in endurance athletes.
... (more)

There are a number of time-tested remedies that might help ease your symptoms and shorten the duration of your cold or flu. These methods might be as effective--or more effective--than any over-the-counter medicine:

  • Rest and relax. Sleep is healing, and avoiding stress can help your immune system work better.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, including warm fluids like tea and soup. Tea with honey is especially helpful if you have a sore throat. One small study found that the popular "Throat Coat" brand of medicinal tea actually does reduce sore throat discomfort, as compared to placebo tea.137
  • Take a warm bath, especially if you have a headache and/or muscle aches.
  • Breathe humidified air by using a humidifier, taking a hot shower, or sitting in a bathroom with a shower running. This is especially useful for relieving congestion and coughing.
  • Gargling with warm salt water can help relieve a sore throat.
  • Using a saline nasal spray can relieve congestion.
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