Monday, 8 August 2016

Home remedies for common cold

Common cold or medically known as viral upper respiratory tract infection is a common problem. It affects many children and adults on daily basis. Common cold usually presents with runny nose, sore throat, mild fever, sneezing and cough. Many health websites offer advice on natural remedies for common cold. Is there any evidence behind those claims?

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Produced by bees, honey is full of vitamins and minerals. This sweet liquid has been used for it’s medicinal properties since the age of ancient Egypt.

Honey is also useful for those who are suffering from common cold. Cough is a common symptoms and can be troubling, especially at night.

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A research by a group of scientists in Israel looked at 300 children up to the age of 5 who had common cold. Some of them received different types of honey 30 minutes before going to sleep, and their parents were asked to comment on the quality of their children’s sleep and how severe was the cough. In the research, parents found that those who were given honey 30 minutes before sleep, had a better sleep quality and coughed lesser compared to others.

In another research, a group of scientists from Pennsylvania State University treated 105 children with common cold with either honey or regular cough syrup(dextromethorphan). At the end of the research, they concluded that “Honey may be a preferable treatment for the cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood upper respiratory tract infection.”

So there is sufficient evidence to suggest honey can be used as an alternative to cough suppressant for children with common cold. Be sure to use it 30 minutes before sleep.

“Honey may be a preferable treatment for the cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood upper respiratory tract infection.”

 Saltwater gargle

Salt water gargle has always been told as home remedy for sore throat relief. Table salt, or scientifically known as sodium chloride is a common household item.  Unfortunately, there is no evidence behind using salt water gargle. Salt has always been said to have anti septic properties but no studies have been able to prove its usage as mouth gargle.  Other mouth washes especially those containing essential oils, or povidone-iodine and chlorohexidine have been heavily studied for other uses for example to be used in after surgery. But mouthwashes do not appear to play a role in common cold.

Steam inhalation

This is a popular method among us. Hot water often mixed with essential oils are used for this. It is said to relieve the congested nose and make breathing easier. The fact is that high temperature can effectively reduce the growth of some viruses that can common cold. But is there any evidence?

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To search for evidence behind this, a group of scientists from Cochrane looked at 6 researches done on this matter. Among these 6 researches, one specifically looked at the amount of virus present in the nose in those given steam inhalation compared to those who weren’t. The research did not report any difference between them. In terms of relief of congestion and pain, some studies reported benefits and some did not. So the authors concluded that “there is not enough evidence to support steam inhalation for the common cold.”

But all the 6 researches done on this issue did not include children. So is it effective in children? We don’t know. But it’s best to be careful when using steam inhalation in children. There are many reports on scalds and burn injury.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a popular common cold remedy among us. Many believe taking vitamin C everyday can prevent and treat common cold. Cochrane reviewers looked at this claim by pooling all the researches done on this matter. They found 29 researches on this. Based on these 29 researches involving 11,306 patients with common cold, 0.2g of Vitamin C regularly was not sufficient in preventing common cold.

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What about treating it? Will taking 0.2g of Vitamin C treat common cold? Unfortunately it doesn’t. After the onset of symptoms, starting Vitamin C shows no effect on the severity and duration of common cold, according to the Cochrane researchers. But the same research also says that 8g of Vitamin C might be able to reduce common cold if taken after the cough and runny nose start.

For comparison, one orange fruit contains 45mg to 60mg of Vitamin C. To get the curative effect of Vitamin C, one has to take 130 to 180 orange fruits per day. The easier method would be to buy the Vitamin C tablets. One Vitamin C tablet normally had 500mg vitamin C. 

The only proven benefit of Vitamin C in regard to common cold is that, regularly taking Vitamin C supplement at 200mg per day reduces the seriousness of common cold if you get it. So for example taking 3 orange fruits per day or half Vitamin C tablet per day will be helpful if you often get common cold. 

"regularly taking Vitamin C supplement at 200mg per day reduces the seriousness of common cold if you get it."


Common cold is caused by viruses. The main treatment is symptomatic; taking enough rest, drinking sufficient fluids, fever reducing medications, and prevention of spread. Most people recover in 2 weeks but cough might last up to a month. The only home remedy with evidence for common cold is Honey which is proven to reduce night time cough during common cold.

For further reading

       Honey for acute cough in children

Vitamin C and common cold

Steam inhalation for common cold

Honey & Cough

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