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Everybody wants to know how to cure a cold or how to get rid of a cold fast, and there are a million remedies people claim work. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the common cold is the main reason kids and adults miss out on school and work.
But no… there is no miracle cure for getting rid of a cold in 24 hours.
But anyone who has woken up to symptoms of sore throat, headache, and sniffles won’t take no for an answer.
And with that inconvenient truth out of the way, we can talk about what really works to get rid of a cold as fast as realistically possible.
So how long does a cold last? What are the best, evidence-based methods of shortening or preventing the effects of a cold?
Whether it’s time to get a hot shower and get back to work, or to get better and play hooky, we’ve got you covered in this definitive. Now let’s take a deep dive into the facts and home remedies to see what really works to get rid of a cold.
Why do I Have a Cold?
Most people start getting symptoms of the common cold when it starts to get cold outside. However, it isn’t actually winter giving us flu symptoms; it’s coming into contact with viruses that challenge our immune systems.
So, why do we seem to get more sick during colder months?
Because when we inhale cold air, cool the body’s surface, and experience stress from frigid temps, we become more susceptible to infections. Our airways and nasal cavities even become less efficient for antiviral defense at cool temperatures. (1, 2)
Also, it’s hard to outrun a virus when sneezes travel about 100 mph.
Once infected, cold symptoms can last 7-10 days and include:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Body aches
How do I Know if I Have a Cold, or if it’s Something Else?
Colds tend to be much milder than similar illnesses. The symptoms come and go in a matter of days, whereas something like the flu or strep throat will worsen quickly and not let up for weeks.
Mild fever for a cold can happen in children but rarely occurs in adults. The main differentiator between the common cold and another illness is the severity of symptoms.
That’s not to say it’s silly to try and get rid of a cold! Even with milder symptoms, a cold can be debilitating or frustrating in its own way.
If you experience mild, annoying symptoms then you most likely have a cold. But if you feel like your face hurts from the pressure of your headache, you might have a sinus infection (sinusitis).
Strep throat might start out with the same tingle in the back of your throat, but it will quickly intensify and cause severe discomfort.
The most difficult to distinguish is likely cold vs. allergies.
Allergies tend to show up with the same initial symptoms but tend to persist longer than the usual 7-10 days. Notice if your mucus is watery, your eyes are itchy, or your symptoms only happen in certain situations. If so, you most likely have allergies.
How to Cure a Cold: Is it Possible?
Many companies will tout their products as “head cold remedies.” But the truth is, once you get a cold, there is no immediate cure.
The best we can do is often reduce the symptoms and severity of the cold.
If we can’t technically get rid of a cold quickly (reversing the condition), then let’s dig into the most proven ways to help reduce the signs and symptoms of your cold.
How to Get Rid of a Cold Quickly
It Starts with Diet
Making a few simple dietary changes can help strengthen your body’s immune system to ward of pathogens and fight off a cold.
Here are some tips:
Add Fresh Ginger
Adding ginger to your diet can provide many benefits. From nausea and vomiting to cancer therapy, this root has a lot to offer. (5)
When testing subjects about to be injected with a virus, scientists found that 300 ug/ml of fresh ginger could decrease plaque formation, inhibit viral attachment, and internalization in subject’s airways. (6)
Try making ginger tea or mixing ginger in with herbal teas and raw honey.
Focus on Anti-inflammatory Foods
You need to make sure your body is in tip-top shape. If you’re already prone to stress, have a low level of activity, and eat things that aren’t great for you, you’re already more likely to get sick and stay sicker longer.
One of the best ways to prevent an ugly illness is to start eating foods rich in antioxidants that fight inflammation.
That’s one good place to start for anyone wondering how to treat a cold.
Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage contain sulforaphane, a “promising antioxidant that is effective to attenuate oxidative stress”. (11)
Oxidative stress happens when there is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in our bodies. Long story short, this puts us at a higher risk for pathogens, inflammation, and disease.
Choose High-Quality Chicken Soup or Bone Broth
Grandma’s chicken noodle soup might be just what the doctor ordered. It actually is shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. But before you go grab some Campbell’s, a very recent study would steer you towards enriched chicken bone broth. (3, 4)
Bone broth is different from a normal thin semi-clear soup broth. It has all the nutrients and benefits of the bone marrow and connective tissue used to make the stock.
This is your best bet to fight off a cold when you get that warm, nostalgic soup craving. Just upgrade your grandma’s old recipe by using bone-in organic chicken to make the broth.
Here’s a recipe to get you started.
A healthy diet lays the foundation to help offset the chance of getting a cold, but if you already have a cold here are some proven supplements to help you bounce back faster.
Vitamin C is the most recommended supplement for people asking how to get rid of the common cold. When it’s too late to prevent a cold from latching on, vitamin C can help you get rid of a cold faster. (14)
This popular over-the-counter cold supplement is a great vitamin to take regularly. Vitamin C deficiency means having compromised immune function and susceptibility to infection. And once infected, it takes drastically more vitamin C to make up the difference.(15)
Good news for athletic people: taking vitamin C proactively reduces your chance of getting a cold by 50%. You just have to regularly partake in “periods of severe physical exercise.” This may seem daunting, but chances are you aren’t doing those things to keep from getting a runny nose. (16, 17)
If you’re just a normal child or adult, have no fear. The same studies showed taking vitamin C can reduce the length of your cold by up to 18%.
Dosage: 100-200 mg daily to prevent a cold, and up to 2000 mg daily for athletes or to reduce the duration of a cold
This is an essential mineral that gives us our “sunny” disposition. Our skin literally produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun and one of the benefits is a boost in general mood.
Although, in one group of healthy kids from one to five years old, vitamin D was shown to have no effect on preventing colds. (21) This isn’t to insist it doesn’t work to get rid of a cold, but its impact may be different in children or when taken in supplement form, rather than derived from the sun.
Vitamin D has been linked to reduced risk of viral respiratory illness. A study found vitamin D increases antiviral defenses against the rhinovirus. This is the most common viral infection agent and the most prolific cause of the common cold. (22)
Dosage: Moderate supplementation is 2000 IU per day, best absorbed with food or a fat source like fish oil.
Any excuse for oysters is a good one, but they aren’t the only source of zinc supplementation (maybe just the tastiest). Zinc is a micronutrient that we need to survive. It is found in meats, beans, and eggs.
Dosage: 80 mg/day if started at the first sign of a cold and for no more than 2 weeks.
Stop taking zinc if you experience any vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, or headaches. These are indicators you might be getting too much. Zinc values in food should also be taken into consideration if you’re taking a zinc supplement.
There are clinical trials that find fantastic results and other that show no difference whatsoever. It is also important to note that it is possible to be allergic to echinacea. In an Australian study, two patients suffered anaphylaxis while others responded with asthma attacks or rashes. (27)
Dosage: 300-500 mg, 3x daily after testing for allergies
Berries have already proven to be an ally in the fight for the fastest way to get rid of a cold. The elderberry is no exception, except if you eat the raw berries, bark or leaves of the plant. These are known to be poisonous.
The cooked berries and flowers, however, are nutritious and may possess the ability to fight cold and flu season. They’re also high in vitamin C.
A group of 312 economy class airline passengers were part of a clinical trial that found elderberry extract provided a significant reduction of cold duration and severity. (28)
A word of caution: elderberries have not been proven safe for women who are pregnant. (29)
Dosage: 300 mg extract 3x daily when ill. Never eat raw elderberries.
Looking for a quick way to get rid of a cold? A plant also known as African geranium has been used to treat bronchitis. It also seems to be an effective treatment of the common cold. It shortens duration and decreases the severity of symptoms by half. (30)
Here’s some good news for the many people who get congested during cold season: Pelargonium sidoides also has a strong effect on clearing nasal passages.
Dosage: 3 ml of clinical strength root extract 3x daily
The main bioactive ingredient in turmeric that has shown to produce antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-cancer activities. Who knew a bunch of negatives could lead to such health benefits? (33)
Since we absorb so little when ingested orally, curcumin is almost always paired with a supplement of piperine to block the enzymes that would normally destroy the curcumin.
Dosage: 500 mg with 20 mg of piperine, taken with food 3x daily
You know what I like to do when I have a cold? Take a diet pill and go run a marathon! What… no one else? That’s not how to fight a cold, right?
But there is hope for the niche group that identifies with my previous statement. Beta glucan, when administered to post-marathon runners suffering from colds, resulted in significantly fewer upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and better overall health. Beta glucans are naturally-occurring polysaccharides that are partially responsible for the benefits of medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, turkey tail, and chaga. These compounds are believed to be heart-protective, but they’re also known to support a robust immune system. Post-race or otherwise, beta-glucans are worth adding to your arsenal of cold-fighting remedies. (34, 35)
Dosage: 250-500 mg
The last supplement worth mentioning for fighting head colds, probiotics, has low-quality evidence but deserves a mention.
In a 2015 Cochrane review, probiotics may decrease occurrences and length of the common cold. This might be a good alternative for our American habit of overindulging in antibiotics, which wreck our gut microbiome and, in turn, our immune system. (36)
Dosage: add probiotics to your normal vitamin routine
Other Natural Remedies
Exercise doesn’t automatically help shorten the duration of your cold, but getting out and doing something might improve your mood and take your mind off things. Listen to what your body needs. If you’re dragging, don’t hit the gym. (37)
During common cold seasons, there is a correlation of decreased time and symptoms for those that take the time to be physically fit and partake in aerobic exercise. (38)
Saline Nasal Irrigation
Throw away that over-the-counter saline nasal spray. Maybe you thought that late night commercial for the Neti Pot was a joke? It seems crude. You take a warm water saline solution, pour it directly into one side of your stuffy nose, the salt water eases congestion by passing through your nasal cavity, and exits out the other nostril.
Actually, science backs it all up. Saline nasal irrigation can ease congestion by increasing mucosal flow, which helps to hinder infection, inflammation, and irritants. (39)
Don’t use hot water, though. The irrigating water needs to be bearable to your skin so that it doesn’t burn.
Because Neti Pots and saline spray have no actual medicine in them, you can use them as often as you find it helps alleviate your symptoms.
Eight military patients with fever from cold viruses were given a mix of classic and modern acupuncture. After a single 20 minute session, all eight confirmed a drop in body temperature. After three days, six of the eight patients had recovered from upper respiratory tract infection with no adverse effects. (40)
Looking for a fast way to get rid of a cold? This is the closest thing to “how to get rid of cold overnight.”
Get a Massage (yes, really)
Unfortunately, young children have to deal with the common cold many times while growing up. Sometimes parents want to limit the amount of over-the-counter medications they give their kids.
Home remedies are not something to just ignore. They can be effective methods to get rid of colds quickly and the answer for how to get over a cold fast naturally.
A study of 60 toddlers found that routine massage therapy performed twice a day for three days provided much-improved lung function. (41)
Sorry mom and dad, there aren’t any ways to get rid of a cold overnight. But targeted massage might help!
When to See Your Doctor
According to the Mayo Clinic, here are the guidelines for when to consult a physician for your cold:
For adults — seek medical attention if you have:
- Fever greater than 101.3 F (38.5 C)
- Fever lasting five days or more, or returning after a fever-free period
- Shortness of breath
- Severe sore throat, headache or sinus pain
For children — in general, your child doesn’t need to see the doctor for a common cold. But seek medical attention right away if your child has any of the following:
- Fever of 100.4 F (38 C) in newborns up to 12 weeks
- Rising fever or fever lasting more than two days in a child of any age
- Symptoms that worsen or fail to improve
- Severe symptoms, such as headache or cough
- Ear pain
- Extreme fussiness
- Unusual drowsiness
- Lack of appetite
Parents, grab the bulb syringe and help your kid out by clearing out the snot. It’s gross, but it works (and relieves some of the stuffiness).
It’s also a handy tool to keep track of the color of your child’s mucus, and thus, the duration of the cold. Colds often produce thick, yellowish mucus.
And keep the kiddos hydrated. You can’t expect them to drink an 8 ounce glass of water every time they are thirsty, so encourage them to take sips often.
Note for the seniorest of citizens: Your immune systems are in a different condition than normal adults. Don’t let your symptoms go untreated. Go see a physician if your symptoms worsen beyond comfortability. Colds left unchecked can get much worse.
Always consult your physician when adding in supplements to your diet. Many of the supplements listed here can work with or against any medication that you might be taking.
Precautions for Supplements to Get Rid of a Cold
- Never eat raw elderberry or any part of the plant. Elderberries have not been established as safe for pregnant or nursing women.
- Don’t take echinacea unless you know that you are not allergic
- You can have too much zinc. Stop taking if you experience any vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, or headaches. We get zinc from foods too.
- Fevers can be scary (especially in kids), but it is our bodies natural effective way of fighting disease. So don’t grab the pain reliever and stop a fever right away. Watch it and make sure it stays in a normal range.
Final Thoughts: How to Get Rid of a Cold
Want to know how to get rid of a cold in one day? You can’t.
Colds last 7-10 days on average, but you can do plenty to speed up the process or lessen the severity of symptoms. Try adding foods and supplements to get rid of a cold faster.
Above all, rest. Your body needs to slow down and get plenty of sleep in order for a cold to go away. Don’t push yourself to breaking point.
Symptoms manifest differently in every age and walk of life, but the common cold should not be ignored. Stay aware of the length and severity of your symptoms when colds occur and you’ll figure out in no time what methods of fighting work for you to get rid of a cold.