Remedies for the Common Cold

So we covered all the symptoms of Colds Cold Symptoms Breakdown

This post focuses on Remedies, what works and what doesn’t.

Fluids –

  1. Water
  2. Hot Teas – Green Tea, Chamomile, Peppermint, etc.
  3. Home made juices with fruits and veggies and a bit of honey can work wonders on the immune system.  Home made juices are not pasteurized thus they retain tons of vitamins and minerals.
  4. Soup Broth or Bone Broth – preferably home made
  • A study conducted at the University of Nebraska showed that chicken broth had lots of benefits for cold symptoms.  First, it’s a no-sugar liquid to hydrate.  Second, the broth itself contains antioxidants from the marrow of the bones and the vegetables that were used to make it. Antioxidants strengthen the antibodies to kill the virus. The amino acids produced during cooking decrease inflammation of the respiratory system and improve digestion.  Chicken and Whole Grain Noodles provide the weakened body with healthy slow released energy.  (Thanks Ma’)

••••• Not Gatorade or Powerade ••••

They are filled with sugar, as in 12 packets of sugar a bottle, which feed viruses and interfere with the immune system function. For further info check this blog out: Sports Drink Breakdown  .  Also, the food coloring and chemical ingredients in these drinks weaken the immune system.  If you are thinking Powerade Zero or G2 – Uhmmmm NO!!  Fake sugars debilitate the gut bacteria, which is the crucial army that fights the viruses.

What’s that you say?  The sick kids need sugar because they have not eaten all day?  Give them a banana with a cracker.  Noodles or veggies from the soup or fresh squeezed OJ.

What about electrolytes?

Orange has 250mgs (typo)

Rest –

During sleep your body increases the number of antibodies it produces.  Think building the army to fight the infection.  Furthermore, during sleep the melatonin levels rise.  Melatonin is a powerful anti-inflammatory that will decrease duration of snot, cough, congestion.  It decreases the swelling in your chest and nose.

How can infants rest with all the congestion?? Here is a trick I learned when I was a hospitalist. 

Prop crib or bassinet up at the head of the bed with books under the bed’s feet. No wedges, no pillows!!!!

Then roll receiving blanket tight, tape to mattress, place tight fitting sheet over the contraption, as shown.

Place baby with head at the higher end of the crib and with his bum in the sling.  Use a tight fitting sheet to cover baby at belly button level and fit edges down the sides of the crib all around, hotel style. The cover needs to be snug but not so tight that the baby can’t breathe.  No loose items in the crib. Now these squirmy guys won’t go anywhere in the middle of the night.  (this also works for reflux)

Saline –

  • In older kids – a Study done in Eastern Europe showed that kids who used saline nose sprays 3 times a day versus kids who used any over the counter remedies, got over their colds faster and needed less antibiotics in the long run.  (Grandmother’s around the world rejoiced at this study).  Spray, suck in, blow the nose.  You can spray this can in nares, tilt head sideways and its now a netti pot.

  • For infants and toddlers – You can put saline drops in the fridge and apply to baby noses as needed.  Cold saline decongests faster then room temperature saline.  Think ice pack on boo boo.  Saline comes in drops, no-drip sprays for finicky customers, or gel swabs.



Get Rid of Snot –

  • Teach older kids to blow their nose while in the bathtub.  Have them put their face in water and have them make bubbles with their nose
  • Suction little baby noses with the Nose Freida



Ok, it looks like the grossest thing ever.  Stay with me….  It works.  There are filters you put in this thing so there is no contact between your mouth and baby snot. Trust me it works miracles.


  • Several Studies done at Penn State (incidentally where I trained and recruited patients for this study), showed that Dark Buckwheat Honey was superior to Delsym, Robitussin, and Benadryl for night time cough.  Any local dark raw honey will do. The sugar in the honey produces more saliva which coats that sore throat better.  More saliva means less post nasal drip irritation, thus less night time cough.  Furthermore, local Honey is filled with antioxidants which are key to building up the immune system.  (once again Grandmas around the world say “Told Ya”).
  • There are now several OTC formulations like Zarby’s Cough Medicine – which is honey in a packet with flavoring.  I prefer the real deal local honey, but if the child is against the taste, give Zarby’s a go.  Ok to mix honey with a bit of lemon juice for vitamin C

Here is a Great Review of the Literature Discussing Zinc, Vitamin C, Echinacea, Probiotics, Dark Buckwheat Honey, Saline as remedies for the Common Cold. 

Zarbee’s Cough Syrup Review:

Baby Cough Syrup:

Ingredients: agave syrup, thyme, and flavoring from grapes or cherry.  No harmful products. However, the three aforementioned products have not been shown in literature to work.  But if it works for your family, then have a good night sleep.

Zarbee’s Cough Syrup for Kids Older then 1yeas old – safe to use in children older then 1 years old.

Ingredients: dark honey from various regions in the country, vitamin C, Zinc, natural flavoring.  See article above on the literature review.  Here are the highlights – honey works for nighttime or daytime cough in some children.  Oral Zinc may reduce the duration of the common cold, but it has to be dosed frequently, and it may have side effects.  No studies on cough.  (My favorite source of Zinc – organic free range chicken). Oral Vitamin C has modest reduction in the duration of the common cold.  Dosing can be tricky in kids.  No studies on cough suppression.  I prefer Natural Vitamin C from fruits.

Prevent the Spread –

Hand Washing, Hand Washing, Hand Washing 

Especially after cleaning kids noses, or cleaning one’s own nose.  After coughing, sneezing, and so on.  Soap and water people!  Lay off the hand sanitizers.  SAY NO to ANTIBACTERIAL soap.  Here is a link:  FDA Ruling on Antibacterial Soaps.

Teach kids to cough and sneeze into their elbows and not into their hands or onto their siblings or onto the kid sitting next to him/her in class.  Most kids just cough in the air and droplets travel very far.  They get stuck on surfaces, and viruses can live on a surface for hours and sometimes days (RSV is one that lives for a long time out of the human body)



These are great additions to bedrooms especially in winter when the heat is on and the air is dry.  Humidifiers help keep the nasal passages moist and the boogers flowing, thus reducing cough.  

It helps with sore throats.  When people are congested they sleep with their mouth open which in turn dries out the throat.  A humidifier can help with this as well.  

Hot or cool humidifier makes no difference.  I prefer cool most in the households  with toddlers so they don’t burn themselves. 

Antihistamines – in kids older then 6months

Numerous studies have shown that refined antihistamine like zyrtec, allegra, claritin, do not work for colds.  However, the older antihistamine Benadryl can help dry up snot in some kids/adults, which can reduce night time cough (the parental nightmare).  Taking Benadryl before bed, can also  decrease post nasal drip which will help with sore throat in the morning (teen nightmare).  If nothing else it can help with sleep, and as we discussed, sleep helps heal the body.  Please use dye free Benadryl.  Word of Caution:  a few studies have shown that drying up the fluid in the nose, can dry the fluid in the ears, and in some cases can increase the risk for ear infections.

Oral Decongestants –

A review of the literature found that psudoephedrine (Sudafed) at 60mg can alleviated congestion, headache, fatigue in the first 1-2 days of cold.  By day 3 it was as good as placebo.  Word of Caution: pseudoephedrine can have side effects such as racing heart rate, jitteriness, increase in blood pressure. So if you have any heart conditions, this medicine is a NO.  This medicine can also keep you awake, so do not take at night.  Please speak with your doctor if this over the counter medicine is right for you or your child.  Do not just randomly get it.  Oral Decongestants and common cold

Nasal Decongestants –

A review of literature found that there is a small but apparent effect in those older then 12yrs old using nasal decongestants in the first 2-3days of cold symptoms.  The Nasal Decongestants reduce inflammation in the nares, thus reducing congestion, headache, post nasal drip, and cough.  No effect was found in children based on the review.  Word of Caution: do not use nasal decongestants for more then 3 days, because it can cause a rebound effect, which can lead to more congestion.  Again, consult with your doctor on this medication.  Nasal Decongestants for the Common Cold

Essential Oils – 

Trendy, but effective?  The new thing around town and on social media is essential oils.  What do the studies show?  We are dying to know!!!!

There are no studies to show that these work or that they are safe, especially in young toddlers and infants.  There is talk about Eucalyptus being great for congestion, but then there are blogs discussing how this can constrict the airway of babies and make it harder for them to breathe.  Discussion on Rosemary and Peppermint for the common cold, but where do you put it? How much?  How much does it absorb through the skin in an infant?  What about a child?  How does the liver process this oil that is now absorbed into the body?  Not one study, just opinions and mommy blogs.  And that’s great, but I am a woman who enjoys evidence based medicine in the interest of Do No Harm.

  • no essential oils on infants less then 6moths old
  • essential oil on older infants ok on bottom of feet
  • essential oil diffusers ok in children older then 2yrs old without a history of asthma.  Remember, just because it comes form a plant, it doesn’t mean it won’t cause swelling in the lungs (think pollen in the spring.  Pollen comes from plants.  Pollen causes irritation in the airway)
  • no evidence that using essential oils daily on children will prevent colds
  • there is a lot of a placebo effect with essential oils, and I do LOVE the placebo effect, as long as it causes no harm.
  • Can of Worms Opened !!!- happy to get links to studies that show how essential oils work for colds.  Not links to books, blogs, or opinion articles.  I need an actual study in a an actual journal.  Please educate me.

Over The Counter Cough and Cold Combination Remedies – NO!!!!

General Rule – they do not work.  Many studies done on these and none show an effect.  When the following meds seem to work, is it because the cold symptoms are getting better, or the cold symptoms wax and wane – which is the normal pattern.

Delsym – No.  Does not work , its filled with chemicals, and it can give kids hallucinations.  Teens abuse this to get high, enough said.

Robitusin – No.  Does not work and is filled with chemicals.

NyQuil, DayQuil , and Other Cough/Cold combination medicines to treat all your symptoms in one dose.  One Word: Garbage.  Combination medicines use tiny doses of decongestant, antihistamine, expectorant, etc.  Tiny does that do nothing.  If you have a horrid symptoms, check the list above and use that medicine to treat that symptom.  Do not waste your money on these very well advertised concoctions.  The reason you sleep on NyQuil is because it has Benadryl in it.  So use Benadryl (much cheaper anyway).

Mucinex – First its gross.  Second it does nothing but make parents feel like they helped kids feel better.

Highlands Cough and Cold – No.  Their claim to fame is “natural”.  Uhmmmm…. So what?  No evidence it works.  Also, several kids have suffered nightmares from these natural formulas.  You know what else is natural, Opium.  That comes from the poppy seed.  Enough said!!

So many of us are so excited about the Natural Label, that we loose focus of what that can mean.  Just because your friend used it and it helped, and it has an herb’s name on the label, doesn’t mean you or your children won’t have a terrible side effect.  It is not regulated, not studied, no one really knows what these concoctions do.  Proceed with caution.


  • Cough with fever for more then 5 days
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Retractions – when you can see the ribs as the child is breathing
  • Struggling to breathe
  • Dusky color 
  • Cough without any of the above lasting more then 3-4 weeks

•••••••Lastly – if you have asthma, have wheezed before, or have been prescribed a nebulizer/inhaler before, and you are coughing, please use your inhaler or nebulizer.  Do not try to suppress the cough!!!  So many parents overlook the nebulizer/inhaler and reach for the Delsym or Mucinex.  Use the inhaler/nebulizer for cough and DO NOT wait to hear wheezing or to see respiratory distress •••••

Hope this Helps

In Good Health, Ana-Maria Temple, MD

3 thoughts on “Remedies for the Common Cold

  1. My 7 year old son was having a hard time these past few weeks with his seasonal asthma and we were giving his allergy med, asmanex, flonase, and we dusted off the old nebulizer and started using that. We were doing this for a week and he was still coughing his face off and wheezing and going around and telling people hey listen to me and breathing really heavy and telling them that he was a monster or something…crazy kid…anyway Well I never was into the essential oils stuff and so I watched Dr. Josh Axe who is a nutritional Dr and he explained for an asthma patient or just anyone child or adult who is congested head or chest to run oregano oil (which is so expensive like $15 for 5mL!), lemon oil, and peppermint oil in a diffuser. I started this on a Friday night and that was the first night in weeks he didn’t cough all night long, still coughed just not ALL NIGHT LONG. So by Sunday he came to me and said Mommy those smells in my room are making my throat and my cough better so I knew they were working. By the next Friday, he was not coughing at all! We only had to use his nebulizer for 2 days and now he is back to normal and saved us a trip to you Dr. Temple I am sure of it!!! I always told my friends that I didn’t believe in that BS ha! But I am a believer now.
    As far as the nasal aspirators go, I am in love with saline for my 4 year old. She had some sinus issues and an ear infection a couple of weeks ago because she has seasonal allergies and thank goodness hers are just upper respiratory but she was so stuffed up she couldn’t breathe and couldn’t blow her own nose. We hadn’t suctioned her nose since she was a younger 3 at least. I by chance was at CVS and bought an electronic nasal aspirator ($20 Not bad) that runs on batteries, UuuuMMM talk about a netty pot??? Lots of saline+electronic nasal aspirator=electronic netty pot and booger soup galore!!! I took a picture of what I got out of her nose and sent it to my husband and he thought it was from me! I was completely impressed with what this thing could do and totally disgusted at the same time. And she actually thanked me and said Mommy I can breathe now. I totally wish we had things like that when my oldest was young because I guess you are seeing a pattern here but she also had seasonal allergies. I am loving this your blog posts!! Hope we don’t see you until September! Have a nice time on your extended vacation. JJ


    1. Hey Jennifer – so glad everyone is doing better. I know Dr Axe and follow his blogs. I cannot endorse the essential oils at this time because the medical doctor in me would like to see medical studies and to prove no harm, esp to asthma kids. So happy it worked for you. And it works for lots of my patients. I just can’t make it a blank statement recommendation at this time. But research is coming, I am waiting. As far as saline and nose aspirator, not a question. Totally underused. Will look into the electronic version. Great find. Thank you. All the Best.


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