You’ve got the flu! That might sound like a minor inconvenience, but influenza is no joke. Despite the medical community’s best preventive efforts (including the flu vaccine, which most of us should be getting annually), millions of Americans are sickened, hundreds of thousands of us are hospitalized, and tens of thousands of us die from flu every year.
Unfortunately, since influenza is a virus, there’s no cure for it; antibiotics are useless against it and for the most part, you just need to wait it out. But there is a way to soften the blow. “Flu is one of the few viral respiratory illnesses that we can actually treat specifically,” says Susan J. Rehm, MD, vice chair of the department of infectious disease and executive director of physician health at Cleveland Clinic.
You wake up with a sore throat. Then come the coughing, sneezing, and sniffling. There’s no denying it — you’re sick. Sadly, there’s no cure for the common cold or the flu. But you can find relief faster with these smart moves.
Take it easy. When you’re sick, your body works hard to fight off that infection. It needs more energy than usual. Make rest your top priority. Stay home from work or school, and put your daily routine on hold until you feel better.
Go to bed. Curling up on the couch helps, but don’t stay up late watching TV. Skimping on sleep makes your immune system weak, making it harder to fight germs. Head to bed early, and take naps during the day. Are your symptoms keeping you up at night? Try using an extra pillow to raise your head. It can ease sinus pressure and help you breathe easier.
Drink up. Getting plenty of fluids thins your mucus and breaks up congestion. It also prevents the headaches and fatigue that dehydration causes. Keep a glass or reusable bottle on hand, and refill it with water. Skip caffeinated sodas, coffee, and alcohol, which can dry you out.
Gargle with saltwater. It’s a good way to soothe a throbbing throat. The saltwater eases swelling and loosens mucus. Stir one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water until it’s dissolved, and gargle a few times a day.
Sip a hot beverage. It’s comforting to curl up with a mug of tea. Plus, research shows that the heat can also ease cold symptoms such as sore throat and fatigue. Try sipping non-caffeinated herbal tea, lemon water, or warm broth.
Have a spoonful of honey. This sticky stuff can coat your throat and soothe a cough. In one study, kids who ate about half a tablespoon of honey at bedtime slept more soundly and coughed less than those who got a placebo medicine. Stir it into a cup of decaf tea or lemon water. One warning: Don’t give honey to babies younger than 1 year old.
Take a hot shower. Breathing in steam may moisten a scratchy throat and nose, as well as loosen your congestion. Although the research is mixed on whether this remedy works, there’s no harm in trying it. The heat can also help relax any aching muscles.
Take an over-the-counter remedy. You may find relief with one of these medications. Take them as directed, and don’t give them to children under age 6 without your pediatrician’s OK.
- Pain reliever for fever and aches. Doctors usually recommend acetaminophen. If you’re taking another cold medicine, though, check that it doesn’t already have the drug. It’s a common ingredient in many OTC remedies, but getting too much can be dangerous. So check the label, and don’t go over the limit of 3,000 milligrams per day.
- Lozenges for a sore throat. They have herbs and other ingredients that can soothe the stinging.
- Decongestant for stuffiness. This medicine shrinks blood vessels in your nose so your airways can open up. But the liquid or pill form may make you feel jittery. Using decongestant sprays and drops too much can cause more congestion, so don’t use them for more than 3 days.
- Expectorant to thin mucus. It can help loosen some of that thick discharge.
- Antihistamine to dry up a runny nose. This drug blocks the chemical in your body that causes sneezes and sniffling.
Taking a decongestant and an antihistamine together may be more helpful than taking either one alone.
Use a saline spray or flush. Over-the-counter saltwater sprays make your nostrils moist, which makes it easier to blow your nose. You may also want to try nasal irrigation. That’s when you gently pour a saline solution into one nostril and let it flow out of the other. It washes away dried mucus so you can breathe easier. You can buy sinus rinses or use a bulb syringe or neti pot. If you do it yourself, always make the saltwater solution with distilled or cooled, boiled water.
Eat chicken soup. Mom was right: This sick-day staple really can make you feel better. Research shows that chicken soup can calm inflammation in your body. This may ease some of your symptoms, such as aches and stuffiness. What’s more, this meal also has liquid and calories to give your body energy