Ask the Doc: Common Cold? Home Remedies That Help!

The common cold is the most common infectious disease in the world, and its side effects come with dozens, if not hundreds, of home remedies to keep you out of the doctor’s office. But many people ask, do they work?

“The list of things that people do are vast,” said Doctor Joel Rosenstock, Medical Director at Absolute Care. “Almost none of them work, but people swear by them.”

He says on average, adults get three common colds per year, which means it’s unlikely a doctor’s visit is part of the cure. Many adults use over-the-counter medication like cold and flu relief and a growing number find remedies passed down through word of mouth as a way of curing the infection.

“Symptomatic relief which includes rest, stay warm, take Tylenol or Advil if you have a low-grade temperature, you can gargle with salt water to relieve pain in the throat,” said Rosenstock. “A lot of people take cough medicines but they really don’t do anything.”

The natural history of the common cold lasts around seven to ten days and can be caused by nearly 200 different viruses. Doctors say it’s hard for patients to identify which virus specifically causes their infection, so treating the cold can be more difficult but not impossible.

“You can take over the counter antihistamines,” he says. “It shrinks the membranes that make you breathe easier but decreases blood supply which is going to get you better.”

Other common remedies include taking more Vitamin C to reduce the duration of the cold, using steam to relieve sinus pressure, and taking in chicken noodle soup or any warm liquid to help with a sore throat, but it’s temporary. “Most people think these remedies work, but most of the time we think those are a placebo effect,” said Rosenstock.

But how do we know when it’s time to go see a doctor? Doctor Rosenstock says there’s a fine line. “Symptoms of a common cold, which are a scratchy throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, and a low-grade temperature, sound like the beginning signs of influenza,” said Rosenstock. “Influenza is a much more serious disease and it’s a hard line to differentiate between that and a cold.

On day three, he says a fever usually goes away with a cold and with influenza, patients usually don’t have a runny nose. “If in the first 48 hours and we’re in the middle of flu season, and you’re feeling muscle aches and joint aches, and you think it’s just the worst cold you’ve had in a while, I’d seek medical help,” he said.

Dr. Rosenstock says what you shouldn’t do is try to power through if symptoms get worse. He says go see your doctor as soon as possible.

For more information on Absolute Care and the services they provide, visit their website at