Try as you may to stay healthy during cold and flu season, it can be difficult to avoid getting sick. After all, the influenza virus doesn’t discriminate between healthy and unhealthy people, or old and young folks. Plus, the virus is easily spread through droplets in the air when someone who is already infected coughs, sneezes, and even talks, so we’re all potential targets. And flu season is longer than you might think — it runs through fall and winter and even into spring, peaking sometime between December and February.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu causes more than 20 million illnesses annually in the United States alone. Flu symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and body aches, can be mild or severe.
Prevention is key. Getting an annual flu shot in October, before flu season is in full swing, can go a long way toward protecting yourself and your family from getting sick. You can still get the flu, but if you had the vaccine it will be less severe.
Although you’ll need a prescription from a doctor, taking an antiviral drug, such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir), can also help prevent the flu if you know there’s an outbreak in your area, according to the National Institute on Aging. You can also get some protection by gargling with green tea, according to a study published in July 2018 in the journal Molecules, which found regularly gargling with green tea lowers your flu risk. Green tea has catechins, a type of antioxidant which may help prevent the infection.
And if you do get the flu, taking an antiviral or the newer anti-flu medication Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) within 24 hours of when your symptoms first appear can shorten the length of your illness. Trying one or more of these natural remedies at home can also help.
1. Sleep Away Your Flu Symptoms
“Getting sleep and taking time to recuperate is the best thing you can do for yourself, your coworkers, and your family,” says Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. And the truth is, when you’re feeling sick, you won’t feel like doing much else. Sleep as much as you can and avoid contact with others until you have been fever-free — without taking any fever-reducing medication — for 24 to 48 hours. While resting, place an extra pillow under your head to help drain your nasal passages and make sleeping more comfortable.
2. Gargle Often to Soothe a Sore Throat
“If you have a sore throat, gargle with water or salt water,” Dr. Horovitz recommends. Gargling often may help reduce swelling in the throat and loosen mucus, which can remove irritants, such as bacteria and allergens, from the throat.
3. Get Better Faster With Zinc
Zinc lozenges can help you feel better faster if you start taking them as soon as you feel fluish, says Neil Schachter, MD, medical director of the Mount Sinai–National Jewish Health Respiratory Institute in New York City and the author of The Good Doctor’s Guide to Colds & Flu. “I recommend using one or two lozenges per day,” he says. Zinc may help boost immunity, which can shorten the duration or severity of the flu, he explains. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health advises checking with your doctor or pharmacist first as zinc may interact with antibiotics and penicillamine, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
4. Drink Enough to Dodge Dehydration
“If you have a fever, you’re at risk for dehydration, so it’s important to make sure you’re drinking enough fluids,” says Dana Simpler, MD, a primary care doctor at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. One way dehydration delays your recovery is by making it harder for the immune system soldiers that squelch invading viruses to travel through your body.
5. Chase Trouble Away With Chicken Soup
Chicken soup isn’t just warm and comforting. A study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics found that a compound in chicken soup called carnosine can help the body’s immune system fight off the flu in its early days. A previous study published in the journal Chest, suggested that chicken soup has an anti-inflammatory effect that may ease symptoms and shorten upper respiratory tract infections. Dr. Schachter notes that soup and other hot liquids, such as tea, have other benefits: They relieve nasal congestion, help you stay hydrated, and soothe inflamed membranes in your nose and throat.
6. Clear Congestion Quickly With a Neti Pot
If you’re stuffed up and feeling miserable, using a neti pot — a small teapot-like vessel with a long spout — to flush mucus from your nasal passages twice a day can help, Horovitz says. This is done by placing a saline solution made with distilled, sterilized, or previously boiled water in the neti pot and following the instructions that came with neti pot.
7. Keep Nasal Passageways
Moist With Steamy Showers
Taking a long steamy shower can help moisturize your throat and nasal passages, while also helping to clear them of mucus, Schachter says. If the flu is making you feel light-headed or weak, simply turn on the hot water, sit in the bathroom and inhale the steam for up to 10 minutes.
Still not feeling better? It may be time to move beyond natural flu remedies and seek medical help. It’s important to contact your healthcare provider, as the flu can have serious consequences, ranging from ear infections to pneumonia to worsening of chronic conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, and diabetes, according to the CDC. “You should be feeling better within five to seven days, but if you are not and still have a fever or have started to feel badly again, be sure to call your doctor,” Schachter says.
Whatever your symptoms — fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, muscle aches, or fatigue — if the flu strikes, these doctor-approved natural flu remedies can help you get well faster.