Cold Remedies: What Works and What Doesn't (2023)

Cold Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't, What Doesn't Hurt

There is no cure for the common cold. But what about cold remedies that claim to make you feel better faster? Find out what is effective and what is not.

By the staff at the Mayo Clinic

Cold remedies are almost as common as the common cold, but are they effective? Nothing can cure a cold. But some remedies can help ease your symptoms and keep you from feeling so miserable. Here is a look at some common cold remedies and what is known about them.

Cold remedies that work

If you catch a cold, you can expect to be sick for a week or two. It doesn't mean you have to be miserable. These remedies can help you feel better:

  • Stay hydrated.Water, juice, clear broth or warm water with lemon and honey help to decongest and prevent dehydration. Avoid alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated sodas, which can make dehydration worse.
  • Rest.Your body needs rest to heal.
  • Soothe a sore throat.Gargling with salt water (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water) can temporarily relieve a sore or itchy throat. Children under the age of 6 are unlikely to be able to gargle properly.

    You can also try ice chips, sore throat sprays, lozenges, or hard candy. Be careful when giving lozenges or hard candy to children as they may choke on them. Do not give lozenges or sweets to children under 6 years of age.

  • Fight congestion.Over-the-counter saline nasal drops and sprays can help relieve stuffiness and congestion.

    In infants, experts recommend putting several drops of saline solution into one nostril and then gently aspirating that nostril with a bulb syringe. To do this, squeeze the bulb, gently place the tip of the syringe into the nostril about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (about 6 to 12 millimeters) and slowly release the bulb. Saline nasal sprays can be used in older children.

  • Decrease the pain.For children 6 months and younger, give paracetamol only. For children older than 6 months, give paracetamol or ibuprofen. Ask your child's doctor what the correct dose is for your child's age and weight.

    Adults can take acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), or aspirin.

    Be careful when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Although aspirin is approved for use in children over age 3, children and teens recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but life-threatening condition in these children.

  • Drink hot liquids.A cold remedy used in many cultures, drinking warm liquids such as warm chicken soup, tea, or apple juice can soothe and relieve congestion by increasing the flow of mucus.
  • Try honey.Honey can help with a cough in adults and children over 1 year old. Try it in hot tea.
  • Add moisture to the air.A cool mist vaporizer or humidifier can add moisture to your home, which can help relieve congestion. Change the water daily and clean the unit according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Try over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough remedies.For adults and children from 5 years old,military cadet corpsDecongestants, antihistamines, and pain relievers can alleviate symptoms. However, they don't prevent a cold or shorten its duration, and most have some side effects.

    Experts agree that these should not be given to younger children. Excessive and improper use of these drugs can cause serious harm. Talk to your child's doctor before giving any medication.

    Take medications only as directed. Some cold remedies contain multiple ingredients, such as a decongestant and a pain reliever, so read the labels of any cold remedies you take to make sure you're not taking too much of any medication.

Cold remedies that don't work

The list of ineffective cold remedies is long. Some of the more common ones that don't work include:

  • Antibiotics.They attack bacteria but do not help against cold viruses. Avoid asking your doctor for antibiotics for a cold or using old antibiotics you have on hand. You won't recover any faster, and inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to the serious and growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Over-the-counter cold and cough medicines for young children. military cadet corpsCold and cough medications can cause serious and even fatal side effects in children. Talk to your child's doctor before giving any medication.

Cold remedies with conflicting evidence

Despite ongoing studies, the scientific jury is still out on some popular cold remedies like vitamin C and echinacea. Here's an update on some common alternative remedies:

  • Vitamin CIt seems that taking vitamin C generally does not help the average person to prevent colds.

    However, some studies have found that taking vitamin C before the onset of cold symptoms can shorten the duration of symptoms. Vitamin C may benefit people who are at high risk of colds due to frequent exposure, for example, children who attend group day care during the winter.

  • Echinacea.Study results on whether echinacea prevents or reduces colds are mixed. Some studies show no benefit. Others show some reduction in the severity and duration of cold symptoms when taken in the early stages of a cold. The different types of echinacea used in different studies may have contributed to the mixed results.

    Echinacea appears to be most effective if you take it when you notice cold symptoms and continue for 7 to 10 days. Appears to be safe for healthy adults, but may interact with many medications. Check with your doctor before taking echinacea or any other supplements.

  • Zinc.Several studies have suggested that zinc supplementation can shorten the duration of a cold. But research has returned mixed results on zinc and colds.

    Some studies show that zinc lozenges or syrups reduce the duration of a cold by about a day, especially when taken within 24 to 48 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold.

    Zinc also has potentially harmful side effects. Talk to your doctor before considering using zinc to prevent or shorten the duration of colds.


Although generally mild, colds can make you miserable. It's tempting to try the last resort, but the best thing you can do is take care of yourself. Rest, drink fluids, and keep the air around you moist. Remember to wash your hands frequently.

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June 03, 2022

  1. Common cold. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed on February 20, 2020.
  2. Sexton DJ, and others. The common cold in adults: treatment and prevention. Accessed on February 20, 2020.
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See more in depth

See too

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  12. Vitamin C and mood
  13. Does zinc work for colds?
  14. exercise and illness
  15. Fatigue
  16. Hand washing tips
  17. To have a cold? common sense rules
  18. To have a cold? Fight the humidity
  19. To have a cold? Fight it with fluids
  20. Headache
  21. Honey: an effective cough remedy?
  22. How well do you wash your hands?
  23. Humidifier Care 101
  24. Humidifiers
  25. Is antibacterial soap an option or not?
  26. nasal cleaning
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  28. Neti pot: Can you wipe your nose?
  29. Clogged ears: what is the remedy?
  30. runny nose
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  34. Vitamin C: Can it prevent colds?
  35. Warm Mist Versus Cool Mist Humidifier: Which is Better for a Cold?
  36. teary eyes
  37. What is MERS-CoV?
  38. When to take your child to the emergency room
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