There is no cure for a cold. However, getting enough rest, drinking fluids, and eating nutritious foods may help reduce symptoms. Some strategies might also help to get rid of a cold sooner.

Colds can occur at any time but are more common during the winter months.

Colds occur due to a viral infection. A person can catch a cold virus by:

  • inhaling droplets that contain virus particles from another person’s coughs or sneezes
  • coming into contact with droplets that contain the virus particles on surfaces, and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes

Cold symptoms may include:

  • runny or stuffy nose
  • congestion
  • sneezing
  • sinus pain or pressure
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • mild to moderate chest discomfort

Symptoms of a cold may be similar to those of the flu or COVID-19. If symptoms worsen or last for more than a week, a person may wish to contact a healthcare professional.

This article lists 10 ways to help people feel better when they suspect a cold is coming.

A yellow drink in a jar, plus some fruit, for preventing a cold.Share on Pinterest
Image Credit: MonaMakela/Getty Images

Although there is no cure for the common cold, the illness typically goes away on its own in 8-14 days. In the meantime, there are some ways to ease cold symptoms, including drinking plenty of fluids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends drinking plenty of fluids when a person has a cold.

The body needs fluids to carry out all its essential functions, including fighting off infection.

Without sufficient fluids, people will begin to experience symptoms of dehydration, which can make a cold feel even worse.

Some symptoms of dehydration include:

People should aim to drink plenty of water and other liquids, such as broths and herbal teas.

Read about how much water to drink in a day.

If someone feels a cold coming on, they should try to get plenty of sleep and rest. This will give the immune system the best chance of fighting off the infection.

Research from 2020 looked at the connection between sleep and developing colds. The researchers used an online survey of 4,000 adults to compare those who had experienced a cold or flu in the previous 12 months.

They found that 23% of participants connected their infection to a lack of sleep. The research also stated that the majority of doctors believe that plenty of sleep can help aid in recovery from cold or flu symptoms.

People with stress-related disorders may have a higher risk of developing infections, as stress can compromise the immune system. Managing stress might be one way to reduce the risk of a cold.

Finding ways to manage stress can help boost the body’s defenses against cold viruses and other pathogens. Some tips for managing stress include:

Learn more about how stress can affect health.

A balanced and varied diet can provide the nutrients the body needs to keep the immune system strong. A strong immune system is better able to fight off infections.

The Department of Health and Human Services outlines the following dietary recommendations in their 2020-2025 dietary guidelines:

  • a variety of vegetables from all subgroups, including:
    • dark green, leafy vegetables
    • red and orange vegetables
    • starchy vegetables
    • legumes
  • fruits
  • grains, comprising at least 50% whole grains
  • fat-free or low fat dairy, or fortified soy beverages
  • a variety of protein-rich foods, such as:
    • seafood
    • lean meats
    • poultry
    • eggs
    • legumes
    • nuts and seeds
    • soy products
  • healthy oils

Learn more about eating a balanced diet.

Honey has antioxidant and antimicrobial effects that may help combat infections.

A 2021 study found that honey was more effective than other common treatments at improving the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.

The substance also creates a thin film over the mucous membranes, which may help relieve throat pain and inflammation.

To help ease a sore throat or cough, a person can try stirring a tablespoon of honey into a cup of hot water or tea.

However, honey is not suitable for children under 12 months of age due to the risk of contracting a rare but serious infection called infant botulism.

Learn more about honey.

There is some evidence that people with adequate vitamin D levels are less likely to get respiratory infections than those with lower levels.

Natural sunlight helps the body synthesize vitamin D. However, sunlight can be scarce in some parts of the world, particularly during winter. If a person finds it difficult to get enough sun exposure, they may find it helpful to take a vitamin D supplement.

The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that people ages 1–70 years get a minimum of 15 micrograms or 600 international units of vitamin D per day.

Learn more about vitamin D levels and how to increase them.

A 2012 review of 14 scientific studies investigated the effectiveness of zinc as a treatment for the common cold.

The research found that people who took zinc supplements experienced a shorter duration of cold symptoms than those who took a placebo. Specifically, their cold symptoms lasted an average of 1–2 days shorter.

However, people should be aware that zinc products can trigger side effects. The National Health Institutes’ National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NHICC) warns that intranasal zinc swabs and gels can cause permanent loss of sense of smell. They add that zinc tablets, lozenges, and syrup can also trigger nausea and other minor gut problems.

Learn more about the benefits of zinc.

A 2013 review investigated whether taking vitamin C reduces the incidence, severity, or duration of the common cold.

The study found that taking at least 200 mg per day of vitamin C did not reduce the risk of getting a cold. However, it did appear to reduce the duration of cold symptoms by an average of 8% in adults and 14% in children. This translates to approximately one fewer day of symptoms.

A later review from 2018, also concluded that taking vitamin C does not prevent a cold.

The researchers note that further randomized controlled trials are necessary to confirm these findings.

Learn more about the importance of vitamin C.

The CDC recommends breathing in steam or using a humidifier to relieve cold symptoms.

People have long used steam when they have a cold to help mucus drain more easily. People also report that it makes them feel better.

A 2017 review did not find enough evidence to confirm that inhaling steam is either beneficial or harmful, although two studies reported minor adverse effects.

To use steam, a person can breathe in steam from a bowl of hot — but not boiling — water. Another option is to use a humidifying device.

Find out more about humidifiers.

The following over-the-counter (OTC) medications will not cure a cold, but they may help alleviate symptoms:

  • pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • throat lozenges to relieve a sore throat
  • saline nasal spray or drops
  • cough and cold medicines for those ages 5 years and over

Always speak with a healthcare professional or pharmacist before taking these OTC medicines or before giving them to children.

Learn more about treating a cold.

Because cold symptoms can resemble COVID-19, people should call a healthcare professional to check whether they require testing. In addition to typical cold symptoms, COVID-19 may also trigger:

  • fever
  • shortness of breath
  • loss of taste and smell
  • gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea or vomiting

A healthcare professional can advise people on what to do next if they have symptoms that resemble COVID-19.

Most people with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and tend to recover at home without medical treatment. However, a person should call the emergency services if they experience any of the following:

  • difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath during walking or light activity
  • persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • new confusion
  • bluish discoloration of the lips or face in lighter skin people, or gray and whitish discoloration in those with darker skin

The CDC recommends seeking medical help if:

  • cold symptoms persist for more than 10 days
  • cold symptoms are severe or unusual
  • fever lasts more than 4 days
  • difficult breathing or fast breathing
  • cold symptoms worsen chronic medical conditions

Read about cold vs. COVID-19 symptoms.

Here are some questions people often ask about cold remedies.

How do you get rid of a cold fast?

There is no sure way to get rid of a cold, but staying at home, resting, and drinking plenty of fluids might help a person feel better sooner. There is also some evidence that vitamin C might slightly reduce the duration and severity of a cold.

Which remedies do not work for a cold?

Antibiotics will not cure a cold because they treat bacteria, and a cold is a virus. The NHICC also says there is not enough evidence to show that echinacea or probiotics can help. They also warn that echinacea can cause an allergic reaction in some people, and long-term use of probiotics may have adverse effects.

How do I know if I have a cold or COVID-19?

The best way is to take a test, as the symptoms can be similar. A fever is more likely with COVID-19 than with a cold, but not everyone with COVID-19 has a fever, and some people have a fever with a cold.

How do I know if I have a cold or the flu?

Flu symptoms can be similar to those of the common cold, which may include:

Most people recover from the flu within 3–7 days, although a cough may last longer than 2 weeks. However, some people are at risk of developing complications due to this illness. Call a doctor if the person with symptoms is:

  • under 5 years of age
  • 65 years of age or older
  • pregnant
  • someone with an underlying medical condition

Learn more about cold vs. flu.

There is no cure for the common cold. However, people can take steps to ease the symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. These include getting plenty of water and rest, eating a healthful diet, and taking OTC medicines and supplements.

A cold will usually go away on its own. If someone still feels ill after 10 days or has severe symptoms, they should speak with a healthcare professional.

Some cold symptoms are similar to those of other viral infections, such as the flu and COVID-19. A healthcare professional can assess whether a person may have COVID-19 and advise them on what to do next.