Expert recommended cold remedies to try at home to help get rid of a cold fast

GPs and a naturopathic nutritionist recommend cold remedies you can try at home to help get rid of a cold as fast as possible

A woman holding a mug of hot green tea, one of the cold remedies recommended by experts
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cold remedies can help you soothe symptoms, ease discomfort and recover from a cold at home.

"A cold can usually be managed by yourself at home for the first few days (unless you suddenly get very unwell in which case you should speak to your GP sooner)," says NHS and Private GP Dr Aarthi Sinha, one of the doctors we consulted for this article. 

In addition to Dr Sinha, we also consulted GPs Dr Paul van der Westhuizen and Dr Roger Henderson, as well as Naturopathic Nutritionist Jessica Shand, all of whom shared their recommendations for remedies that could help soothe symptoms of a cold and help you on the way to recovery. 

Dr Sinha cautions that while some cold remedies may be suitable for adults, they are not suitable for coughs and colds in babies and children, and are also not recommended for the elderly, pregnant people or those who are immunocompromised. "The following home remedies may be helpful for adults – it is always best to seek medical advice for children, the elderly, pregnant women, those who are immunocompromised and anyone who suffers from significant long term health conditions," says Dr Sinha. 

The information in this article is for general purposes only and does not take the place of medical advice. It is essential to be guided by your GP and take note of official NHS advice. If you are unsure or concerned about your symptoms, pregnant, elderly, immunocompromised or have a child who is unwell, then it is crucial to seek personalised advice from a doctor as soon as possible. You should immediately seek medical attention if your symptoms worsen.

Cold remedies experts recommend to help get rid of a cold fast

1. Rest

One of the best remedies for a cold is sleep and plenty of rest. We tend to try and go about our daily tasks when we have a cold, when we really just need to rest up and help our bodies recover. 

"Getting a cold can make you feel fatigued and rubbish, however, you can often treat it yourself without seeing a GP," says Dr Van der Westhuizen. "The best thing you can do is to support your body so it can heal on its own accord," he says, adding, "make sure to get plenty of rest."

Ensuring you get enough sleep is an important factor in helping to prevent and fight colds, says Dr Sinha, "The best natural remedy for a cold is rest, to allow your body’s defence mechanisms to fight off the cold."

2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet

It’s important to ensure you are getting plenty of good nutrition while you have a cold. "This involves making sure you drink plenty of fluids (water) and eating small amounts of healthy food regularly. Avoid excessive oily or heavy foods at this time," says Dr Sinha. 

"Continue to eat healthy food that is rich in vitamins and minerals to support your immune system," advises Dr Van der Westhuizen.

3. Drink plenty of water

The benefits of drinking water are well known, but if you have a cold or you feel unwell, it’s extra important to ensure you are drinking enough water throughout the day.

Dr Van der Westhuizen and Dr Sinha both advise drinking, "lots of fluid to avoid becoming dehydrated" to help your body recover while you have a cold. This is also important for helping to ease other symptoms you may have, such as if you want to get rid of a headache.  

4. Try steam inhalation

Inhaling steam to ease cold symptoms is a traditional remedy for colds, sore throats and blocked noses that’s been used for many years. The idea is that the steam from the water helps to open nasal passages, relieving the symptoms caused by inflamed blood vessels and helping with congestion by loosening mucus in the airways.

"Steam inhalation is very simple to do and quite effective at helping to decongest a blocked nose," says Dr Sinha, with Dr Van der Westhuizen agreeing and saying, "Breathing in steam can also help to ease any congestive symptoms such as a blocked nose."

The NHS suggests, "try sitting in the bathroom with a hot shower running."

Do not let children breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water because of the risk of scalding. Remember to always exercise caution with hot water and do not add anything to the water as this may irritate the lining of the throat. 

5. Drink hot water with honey and lemon

A hot honey and lemon drink is one of the most well-known home remedies for a cough and cold, and was recommended by all of the doctors we spoke to as an effective way of soothing a cold. 

"Honey has antibacterial properties, which helps to fight infection. It also has a demulcent effect: relieving irritation by forming a cooling film around the throat," explains Dr Henderson. A squeeze of fresh lemon will further boost the natural power of a warm honey drink. "Lemon is packed with vitamin C, which the immune system needs, and contains antibacterial and antiviral properties to help fight infection," he adds.

To make a hot honey and lemon drink the NHS suggests: 

  1. Squeeze half a lemon into a mug of boiled water
  2. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey
  3. Drink while still warm

Do not give hot drinks to children. Do not give honey to children under 12 months old.

6. Gargle salt water

It may not sound appealing, but gargling with salt water can really help with the severity of cold symptoms. A natural, low-cost way to ease uncomfortable cold symptoms, gargling with salt water can also help soothe a sore throat.

"The two best things for a sore throat are gargling salt water and having hot water with honey and lemon," says Dr Sinha.

The NHS suggests the following method to gargle with salt water:

  1. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water (warm water helps salt dissolve).
  2. Gargle with the solution, then spit it out (do not swallow it).

Children should not try this. 

7. Sup chicken soup

There’s a reason why chicken soup is a dish synonymous with colds and cooking when you feel under the weather. Not only is soup a go-to food when you’re congested and have a sore throat, but the dish contains all sorts of beneficial vitamins and nutrients needed to help your body get back to full health. Naturopathic Nutritionist Jessica Shand explains, "Chicken soup is brimming with vitamins and incredible nutrients to help support the immune system when it’s fighting cold and flu symptoms. The warming element to the soup is not only lovely and comforting when you’re not feeling your best, but it also helps to soothe the throat and may help clear nasal congestion."

Research also backs up the suspected benefits of chicken soup, with a study featured in the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians finding, "chicken soup may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity including an anti-inflammatory mechanism that could ease the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections."

8. Try green tea

Sipping on warm drinks can help rehydrate lost fluids and soothe sore throats, but certain drinks are better than others. If you fancy a break from hot honey and lemon, Naturopathic Nutritionist Jessica Shand suggests trying green tea.

"Rich in antioxidants, green tea is beneficial to drink when you’re suffering with a cold," says Jessica. "And it has antiviral properties, so whilst it won’t cure you, it’s a great drink to help improve symptoms and provide your body with the extra goodness."

"Green tea can also help to soothe the inflammation and irritation that can cause a sore throat," adds Dr Henderson.

Remember, do not give hot drinks to children.

How long does a cold last?

"It’s normal for a cold to clear up after one or two weeks. If the symptoms persist longer than this period despite you taking appropriate medication and looking after yourself, it’s important to see a doctor," advises Dr Van der Westhuizen.

When to see a doctor about a cold

It is always best to seek medical advice for children and see a doctor if you are elderly or pregnant. 

The NHS states that you should also see a GP if:

  • you have a high temperature for more than 3 days
  • your cold symptoms get worse
  • your temperature is very high or you feel hot and shivery
  • you feel short of breath or have chest pain
  • you're worried about your child's cold symptoms
  • your cold symptoms do not get better after 10 days
  • you have a cough for more than 3 weeks
  • you get cold symptoms and you have a long-term medical condition (for example, diabetes, or a heart, lung or kidney condition)
  • you get cold symptoms and you have a weakened immune system (for example, because you're having chemotherapy)
Disclaimer

The information on GoodTo.com does not constitute medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. Although GoodtoKnow consults a range of medical experts to create and fact-check content, this information is for general purposes only and does not take the place of medical advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional or seek urgent medical attention if needed.

Our experts

Dr Arthi Sinha
Dr Aarthi Sinha

Dr Aarthi has been practising as a GP for almost 10 years. Most of that time was spent as a senior partner in practice. Dr Aarthi says  "I completed my medical training at the Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas Hospital Trust – which is part of King’s College London. I then undertook further medical experience around the country before settling back into North London where I completed my GP training.  Apart from my medical degree I also have a Bachelors degree in radiological sciences and several diplomas in gynaecology, sexual health and occupational medicine. I will therefore be able to support patients not just as their doctor but may be able to discuss how their health affects their work or their work affects their health."

Dr Paul Van der Westhuizen
Dr Paul Van der Westhuizen

Dr Paul van der Westhuizen is one of the practising GPs at Medichecks. Alongside his role at Medichecks, Paul is an out-of-hours GP, delivering urgent primary care to his local community, ranging from treating sick children to providing emergency palliative care. He has a keen interest in sport and anatomy and holds a postgraduate master’s degree in sports and exercise medicine from Trinity College Dublin. He also finds it “a privilege to have educated tomorrow’s doctors” by teaching anatomy to undergraduate medical students.

Dr Roger Henderson
Dr Roger Henderson

Dr Roger Henderson qualified as a doctor from St Bartholomew's Hospital, London in 1985 and as a general practitioner in 1990. He is a senior GP, recently retired from his long-standing position as the head of a 16,000-patient general practice where he was also a GP trainer, running his large main surgery and two branch surgeries including a University campsite. He now works as a sessional GP.

Jessica Shand
Jessica Shand

Jess is a Naturopathic Nutritionist and Wellness Coach who specialises in female health optimisation using food and lifestyle rituals as medicine to help you thrive from the inside-out and breakaway from eating habits that are not serving you. She has nutrition (pre and post-natal, weight-management and behaviour change) qualifications that are certified by the Association for Nutrition (AfN) and accredited by the The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH). She completed her Nutritional Therapy and Health Coach training at The College of Naturopathic Nutrition (DipCNM).

Recent updates

This article was originally published on 12th December 2023 and was updated on May 19th 2024 to add expert advice from Dr Paul Van der Westhuizen and Dr Aarthi Sinha, and to review the information provided and ensure it reflects GoodToKnow’s current editorial standards. 

Debra Waters
Freelance Lifestyle Writer

Debra Waters is an experienced online editor and parenting writer. She also has a strong background on health, wellbeing, beauty, and food. She currently writes for Goodto and Woman&Home, and print publications Woman, Woman’s Own, and Woman’s Weekly. Debra has written for What to Expect, Everyday Health, and Time Out. In addition, she has had articles published in The Telegraph and The Big Issue.