Home Remedies for Cold, Flu and Allergy Symptoms
Let me start by saying that I think modern medicine is a gift and a blessing. Without it, my first three children and I would have died. No home remedies could have solved that problem. It has also made life significantly easier and more comfortable in a lot of ways. That said, I also don’t think all of our answers lie in a pill bottle.
hope know we’re rounding the corner on cold and flu season, but allergy season comes next, and many will be suffering from the same symptoms, if for different reasons. I am extremely prone to sinus infections if I don’t take something to dry up my nose, but I hate how those medicines make me feel. For the last few weeks I’ve been experimenting on my own cold symptoms to find some home remedies that really do relieve my symptoms without that spacey feeling from pills, and wouldn’t you know it, the main ingredients came from my food storage. You may already know about these, but I never realized how effective they really are until I used them exclusively. I wish I had known about these when I was pregnant, sick and couldn’t take anything.
Scratchy throat – Hot tea just feels good going down, and this is delicious, inexpensive, always in your cabinet, and no mystery ingredients. You can adjust the amounts to your own taste. I actually make mine stronger than this, but I’ve always wanted more flavor from herbal teas. If you are lucky enough to have a lemon tree or lemons on hand, slice a lemon in half and boil it in your water. Be sure and wash the rind first. You can drink this all you want!
Lemon Honey Tea
8 oz hot water
2 tbsp lemon juice (the bottled kind works great too)
1 tbsp honey
Cough Remedy/Decongestant – my cough remedy is a two-part solution. I was up all night coughing because of the post-nasal drainage tickling my throat. The cough wasn’t in my chest, so I don’t know how much it would help with that, though it would still be soothing to a raw throat. My problem was purely excess mucus.
A friend recently told me about a sinus cleanser, and I picked one up for $10 at the grocery store. There are different types and they range in price, but have the same function. I don’t think I’ve ever breathed that well in my life, and I’m hooked. I’m feeling much better, but I still do it morning and night. It comes with packets of a salt/baking soda mix that I can make myself once these packets run out. I’ve used a neti pot before, and it’s the same principle, but with this I get a little more force behind the water to help clear it all out, and I don’t have to crank my neck around in a weird direction. I do recommend you buy a separate one for each person to be sanitary.
Some honest truth about using it: it takes practice. After about 10 uses I was much better at it. Several times I choked and gagged because it went down my throat. At first it felt like I’d fallen into the ocean with my mouth open while taking a huge breath. My husband came running into the bathroom to see if I was drowning (I kind of was) when he heard all the gagging. Even then it was worth 60 seconds of sputtering for the immediate relief from congestion and coughing. Also, be prepared to have little dribbles of salt water leak out of your nose a few times over the next few hours. You bend over to tie your shoe, and a little ocean water spills on your hand. It’s not a gush, just a few drops, but it’s sudden and a little surprising. I keep some tissues handy. I’ve found that if I lie down for a couple of minutes when I’m done, most of the extra water will drain down the back of my throat instead of out my nose a little later. The salt may irritate your nasal passage a little. If it does you can put some petroleum jelly there, or some unscented lotion/cream to protect it. For me that went away after a day.
How to use it: I mixed the salt/baking soda packet with lukewarm water in the bottle. I leaned over the tub at a 90 degree angle and squirted room temperature salt water up one nostril, and it came out the other side, along with everything that was in there. I alternated sides until the water was all gone. AND I COULD BREATHE!!!! It’s wonderful. I do this in the morning and before bed, though it’s safe to do often throughout the day. It’s part of my morning and night routine. You can also use this solution in a neti pot if you prefer those.
Sinus Rinse Solution:
1 cup (8 ounces) room temperature water
1/4 tsp salt (Iodized salt may be slightly more irritating, so if you have another kind, like kosher, you could try it.)
1/4 tsp baking soda
Supposedly, continuous use of this reduces the frequency of illnesses and lessens the duration of your cold. It makes sense to me, kind of like washing your hands to get rid of germs, but I’m not a doctor (though I do sometimes play one at home). I think that flushing allergens like pollen out of your nose would also be particularly helpful. The sinus cleanser I bought is dishwasher safe on the top rack. Whichever way you clean it, make sure you get all the soap out. That wouldn’t feel good up your nose or down your throat. I was talking to my sister-in-law about this, and she said her mom did something similar with a hot water bottle by hanging the bottle on the shower curtain rod to create the pressure. *Captain Obvious here: buy and label a new hot water bottle and tubing to clean your sinuses, and save the other one for its own intended purposes.*
After I cleaned out the offending matter in my nose and throat, my throat was still angry and scratchy from coughing, so I mixed lemon juice and honey and drank. It was very soothing, and my throat relaxed, and I went to sleep. Lemon is a natural antiseptic, and honey is very soothing. There have been studies (and I read about it at the Mayo Clinic’s website, not some random blog like mine ) that show honey is more effective as a cough suppressant than cough medicines. Since it is natural, safe, delicious and readily available, I vote for lemon and honey! You can take this as often as you want. Please don’t give honey to a baby under the age of one due to the risk of infant botulism, a rare form of food poisoning.
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp honey (I use raw, local honey)
Mix well or you are going to get one serious sour then sweet punch.
When I was sickest, I did this combo of saline rinse and lemon/honey mixture right as I was going to bed, and I slept about 5 hours without coughing. When it started up again, I got up and repeated. It only takes 60 seconds, and that was much better than coughing for hours, which I did several nights before I figured out my combo. Once my symptoms lessened, it helped me sleep all night.
There is no way you are going to get kids to agree to the saline rinse. The closest you can come with them is to use a saline spray for children like Baby Ayr and a snot sucker. We love the nose frida. It’s highly effective. My kids have a love/hate relationship with it. It freaks them out when I’m doing it, but they love that they can breathe after. Once again frequency breeds familiarity, and they get used to it.
A humidifier helps with the congestion and coughing, and I really like to use the Vick’s liquid with it.
Get Up and Move
The main reason I didn’t have to do the sinus rinse between waking and going to bed is my daily life is such that I’m on the move all day. Sometimes it’s better to just keep moving instead of lie down, and sometimes it’s better to stay in bed, but for this cold, it helped to just go about my day. I still got up and exercised each day, did all the usual things, and that kept my sinuses clear once they were rinsed out. Back when I used to sit at a desk, I would have had to do the rinse more often. I’m not saying I was bouncing around the house doing all kinds of extra things, I skipped some things, kept it more low-key, but I continued with my basic routine. I did go to bed earlier to try and get some extra sleep to help my body fight off the virus.
You can make a ramp with your pillows to keep you more elevated when you sleep, or I actually have a wedge/ramp thing that kept me in that position when I was pregnant and had such awful reflux. Now I use it when I’m sick. I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth out of that, and it has earned its storage space. That angle keeps the mucus from settling in my sinuses and throat.
Last spring when I came home from the hospital with my new baby, all my old babies had pink eye. I was lactating at the time, and someone told me that breast milk cures pink eye, and sure enough it did. I was thoroughly impressed. This time around, I was not lactating, and started myself on the antibiotic drops. Then my husband’s cousin told me to make a saline solution and drop it in my eye several times a day. When I woke up with a second goopy eye, I decided to try the salt water in that eye (I finished my antibiotic course in the eye I had started it in). I mixed up my solution and used one of those little droppers that comes with baby Motrin. I dropped some in the corner of my eye probably 5 times a day and waited a couple of minutes before getting up. It worked! By lunch, my eye looked and felt much better. It felt the same as getting ocean water in my eyes, not my favorite, but not awful. I did it for 4 days. This is the solution I mixed up:
1/2 cup distilled water (I boiled the water and let it come to room temp)
1/4 tsp table salt
I sterilized the cup and the dropper
Since pink eye is highly contagious, I had to sanitize some things. I washed our sheets in hot water, laundry detergent and 1 cup of vinegar every day until I knew the pink eye was 100% gone, and I disinfected all my make-up brushes. I washed them with shampoo first just to get them clean, then soaked them in a vinegar solution for 10 minutes and rinsed again. If the lingering vinegar smell bothers you, just shampoo them again. I also threw away my eye makeup because it was contaminated.
1 part vinegar and 2 parts water
That’s Not All
These few ingredients are not all I’m storing for my emergency medical storage. I’m still storing ibuprofen and acetaminophen for fevers and pain, Benadryl for allergic reactions, anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medicines and other basic medications. As I wrote at the beginning, I’m grateful for modern medicine. When there is a more natural alternative, I prefer to use it, but I don’t ignore other helpful options.
I hope everyone in your family is healthy and avoiding all the yucky viruses going around this year, but if you are among the unfortunate many who are suffering, I hope these remedies will help you as much as they help me. If any of you have other things you’ve tried, I’m always willing to try something new! Tell me about it in the comments below!
*UPDATE* – The day after I posted this, I got the flu (I think), with horrible cold symptoms plus fever, chills, aches, etc. The sinus rinse still helped a lot, but I had to do it many times a day. Sometimes, it was so blocked that the water came right back down the same nostril. However, I found that a little later, the saline had softened things up a bit, and I could try again with more success. I’m still convinced that the saline rinse saved me from yet another sinus infection by keeping things cleared out, or at least forced my body to rotate its inventory Nothing stayed in place long enough to get infected.
I still got up and got moving, but I skipped the exercise and stayed in bed an extra hour. I shuffled around the house the rest of the day because if I sat down, my symptoms magnified. The elevating helped a lot when I was trying to sleep. I used all of these same symptom relievers, although I didn’t get as much relief because I was much, much sicker. I’ll be honest, I used pharmaceuticals to help with my symptoms, and I was grateful to have them in my emergency medicine storage because that meant no trips to the store. I was miserable, and all of these things helped me get through the day, since I still had to get up every day and take care of 5 little ones, make 3 meals and 1 snack, wash clothes (but maybe not fold them this week) and be present (sort of).