10 Natural Ways to Pamper Yourself When You Have a Cold

"The two redheads." Photo by mollypop. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

One of the least pleasant and most common illnesses is the common cold. The average cold typically lasts close to two weeks (or longer) and the average person gets several colds each year. That’s a lot of time spent sniffling, sneezing, coughing, congested and generally feeling crummy. This past cold and flu season, our family was hit especially hard by various cold viruses and spent the entire month of February under the weather—barely recovering from one virus before being hit by another. The cold viruses also seemed especially potent this year. We thought we were done with these illnesses until being hit by a last-ditch spring cold virus just last week.

While there are numerous over-the-counter cold medications out there, there are situations where you can’t take medicine. Pregnant and nursing women, for example, are often advised to take as few medications as possible and the options for medicating small children are very limited too. Sometimes we need to fall back on natural remedies.

What are some natural ways to take care of yourself when you have a cold? Below are a few tips.

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1. Sleep. When you are having trouble breathing, sleep is challenging but it has always been my experience that the more rest you can get, the faster you will recover. Sleeping in odd positions can help. Elevating your head with pillows or even hanging your head over the side of the bed to allow gravity to help with drainage have been helpful to us.

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2. Pamper your nose. When you blow your nose so often it is rubbed raw, give it a little pampering. Tissues with lotion in them or cotton rags that you can launder in hot water are softer on the nose than regular tissues. Putting a little Vaseline on your dry nose helps too.

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3. Water therapy. A dermatologist once told me that plain water is a proven pain reliever. There is something about the sensation of water on the skin that deadens our sense of pain and discomfort. When badly congested, there are few therapies more effective than taking a long, hot shower or soaking in a hot bath. For a treat, add a menthol shower tablet or body wash to aid in decongestion. If necessary, take more than one shower or bath a day. In the middle of the night, filling the sink basin with hot water and putting a towel over your head to breathe in the warm vapors is one of the best decongestants out there. Some swear by humidifiers.

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4. Spicy soup/spicy foods. Without a doubt, hot liquids of any kind help with decongestion. If you can take your food spicy, you can add another natural decongestant to the mix. We have tried numerous grocery store canned soups but find that they are “mild” at best in their spice content. If you can work up the energy to cook, you could make your own soup such as James Wong’s Goji Berry and Chicken Soup.  Otherwise, having a good Asian take-out restaurant in your contact list has been a lifesaver for us. In our old apartment, we relied on hot and sour soup from a wonderful Chinese restaurant and in our current home, we rely on Thai Tom Yum or Tom Kha soup from ThaiTown 56.  While hot soup may be a tough sell for most children, our children will eat some spicy foods, with yellow curry chicken and ginger chicken being particular favorites.

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5. Honey and Lemon. Continuing the hot liquids theme, honey and lemon are fantastic for soothing sore throats and delivering a boost of vitamin C. Find a large mug, squeeze in half a lemon and a big squirt of honey and fill the rest with hot water for a simple “tea.” Note that you generally can’t give honey to children under 1.

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6. Neti Pot. My doctor suggested a Neti Pot for cold relief to me this year. I had never heard of it before. It is essentially a little teapot that you fill with warm water and a packet containing a mixture of salt and baking soda. You then pour the water in your nose! It sounds kind of scary and some people complain that it gives them the sensation of drowning. I was a bit nervous to try it myself. To use the Neti Pot effectively, you need to relax and focus on breathing through your mouth as you pour the water in your nose. Yoga training helps here. I have had mixed results with the Neti Pot. It did not do very much in terms of decongestion for me and was not nearly as effective as a hot shower. After using the Neti Pot for one cold, I also ended up with a sinus infection and ear pain. This could have been a coincidence but there are warnings on the box that each person’s sinus anatomy is unique and that some sinus patterns are not compatible with the Neti Pot. So, be careful and consult your doctor if you have questions. I don’t rely on the Neti Pot for primary decongestion relief but if nothing else it is a weird distraction when you are not feeling well and possibly helpful. Due to the breathing focus required, this remedy is for adults only.

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7. Orange Juice. Again, more vitamin C is generally a good thing when you are ill. Orange juice is generally acknowledged to have the biggest vitamin C punch of all the fruit juices and also gives you B vitamins and potassium. This is one remedy kids will tolerate too!

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8. Light exercise. Mornings are especially miserable when you are congested. Sometimes just getting out of bed, being upright and walking around a bit or breathing some fresh air outside helps with decongestion.

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9. Cough drops. When your throat is positively on fire or you are in the middle of a coughing fit, cough drops (although I suppose technically not a “natural” remedy) are a must. My doctor indicated that over-the-counter menthol cough drops were generally safe to use during pregnancy but to check the labels for ingredients. I found that cough drops vary widely in their menthol content with some having none and others quite a bit along with other medicines. Some cough drops are little more than hard candies with sugar and flavorings. You could also make your own, such as James Wong’s Elderflower Throat Lozenges. Because of the risk of choking, cough drops are out for kids but one friend suggested popsicles high in vitamin C as an alternative.
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10. Laughter. When you are feeling awful, giving a lift to your spirits has been shown to boost immune function. Stopping by the Red Box to pick up a good comedy or checking out the latest viral videos on YouTube is another natural pick-me-up.

Two other things to think about for cold care recovery.

Mom care. Now that I am a mother, life gets especially hard when a cold virus hits the house. Sleep is nearly impossible when small children feeling ill need my attention constantly and are sleeping fitfully themselves. In our home, the primary burden of nursing care for the children falls on me as my husband needs to focus on getting well himself so he can head back to the office. Moms need a little care too, however. I look for every small stretch of sleep time I can get and ask my husband to stay me for a several hour uninterrupted nap once a day in the worst days of the illness.

Post-illness disinfection. Once everyone is on the mend, take a few minutes to clean the bathrooms and wipe down doorknobs and lightswitches. If you have had a bacterial infection, you might consider changing out your toothbrush too. While you are not really at risk of reinfecting your own family, you can prevent the illness from spreading to others.

What is your favorite cold remedy? Please share in the comments.