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Cold misery: Which remedies work, which are a waste of time and money

It's cold and flu germ season. Before you try your favorite home remedy, here's what works and what may be a waste of time and money.
/ Source: TODAY

Sniffling, sneezing, congestion and coughing — it can be hard to fight off the germs. Before you try your favorite home remedy, here's what works and what may be a waste of time and money.


It works! Tea with honey or warm lemon water mixed with honey is actually useful in alleviating coughing in children and can help relieve a sore throat in adults.

In one study, children age 2 and older with upper respiratory tract infections were given up to 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) of honey at bedtime, according to the Mayo Clinic. With the honey, night coughing was reduced and sleep was easier.

In fact, in the study, honey appeared to be as effective as a common cough suppressant ingredient, dextromethorphan, in typical over-the-counter doses.

Tea with honey or warm lemon water mixed with honey can help ease coughing in children and helps relieve a sore throat in adults.Damian Dovarganes / AP

The type of honey used in the studies was buckwheat, a darker, stronger-tasting variety, but any type should soothe and coat a scratchy throat. Give a spoonful to your child before bed and as needed.

However, due to the risk of infant botulism, a rare but serious form of food poisoning, never give honey to a child younger than age 1.

And remember: Coughing helps clear out mucus so if you or your child is otherwise healthy, you don't need to suppress the cough.

Vitamin C

It doesn't seem to work. Although a few studies suggest vitamin C might shorten the duration of a cold, others find no benefit, and no major studies show that vitamin C eases influenza. Vitamin C doesn't show protection against catching a cold, either.

Research indicates that taking a vitamin C supplement may help treat a cold only if your body has a deficiency in the vitamin. For example, people who live in cold climates may have low levels of the vitamin so a supplement may offer some protection. But you'd get the same benefit from regular, vigorous exercise.

Vitamin C is generally considered safe; however, high doses can cause digestive problems such as diarrhea and nausea. Studies show no benefit from taking other vitamins, such as vitamin E, for colds.


It can help!

An analysis of research found that taking zinc supplements through the first few days of a cold, either as a syrup or lozenge, may shorten the illness. But because supplements aren't regulated, you can't always be sure of the formulation and how effective it is.

It also appeared to prevent colds in people who used it over the course of about 5 months.

While people who have zinc deficiency may have weakened immune systems, that does not necessarily mean that more zinc is better. Whole grains are rich in zinc and a balanced diet may provide all you need.

Zinc is toxic in high doses. And the Food and Drug Administration recommends against using zinc nasal gel because it can cause a permanent loss of smell. One Canadian study suggests that zinc supplements might help reduce the severity of the common cold, but different formulations of different products make it a difficult theory to test.

Hot liquids

They work! A cup of hot tea can ease sniffles, sneezing and congestion.

Hot liquids have long been promised to help loosen secretions in the chest and sinuses, making them easier to expel and ultimately clearing up congestion.

In December, researchers at the Common Cold Center at Cardiff University in Britain looked at whether hot beverages relieved the symptoms of 30 people suffering from the flu or common cold any better than drinks at room temperature. They found that the contrast was marked.

"The hot drink provided immediate and sustained relief from symptoms of runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness and tiredness," they reported, "whereas the same drink at room temperature only provided relief from symptoms of runny nose, cough and sneezing."

While this was the first study to look specifically at the effects of hot drinks on cold and flu symptoms, others have looked at hot foods like chicken soup and had similar results.

Chili pepper

It doesn't work.

Some people believe chili pepper containing a compound called Capsaicin can clear up congestion and even prevent a cold.

Experts from National Institutes of Health and Duke University says it just isn't so.

The pepper, which is believed to help with pain and stimulate the gut, does not do anything for cold symptoms or prevention.


There's little evidence any herbal remedies help a cold. Numerous studies show echinachea doesn’t prevent colds or flu or even help treat symptoms.

Echinacea is a flowering plant that grows in the U.S. and Canada and has been touted as medicine for centuries. There are nine species of echinacea, including the purple coneflower or black-eyed Susan. The leaves, stems, flower, and roots are used to make supplements, liquid extracts, and teas.

Only a small amount of research on echinacea has been done in children, and the results of that research are inconsistent.

One exception to herbal remedies: There is some evidence that fresh garlic might help prevent colds, and there’s little harm in eating it.

Salt water

Rinsing with salt water helps break nasal congestion and rinse out the sinuses.

You can do this with a neti pot or bulb syringe.

Always use distilled, sterile, or previous boiled water when you make this solution. Otherwise you might get an infection. Also, rinse the bulb or Neti pot after each use and leave open to air dry.

This updated story was originally published in 2016