Home remedies for the common cold

When you feel sick, you want to feel better fast. But antibiotics aren’t the answer for every illness.

You can control many symptoms of viral illnesses like colds and the flu with over-the-counter and home remedies.

Most illnesses are caused by two kinds of germs: bacteria or viruses. Viruses cause the common cold, most coughs and the flu — and antibiotics don’t work on them. Using antibiotics for a virus: will not cure the infection; will not help you feel better; and will not keep others from catching your illness.

  • What’s the harm in taking antibiotics anytime? Using antibiotics when they are not needed causes some bacteria to become resistant, making them harder to kill. A cure for resistant bacteria may require stronger treatment — and possibly a stay in the hospital.

Bacteria cause strep throat, some pneumonia and sinus infections. Antibiotics can work, but may not always be recommended by your health care provider; follow his or her advice on what to do about your illness, including taking all of any prescribed medicines.

What you can do to feel better

You can control many symptoms of viral illnesses like colds and the flu with over-the-counter and home remedies.

Non-medication treatment for your cough or cold

  • Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Try to breathe moist air. Use a humidifier or take a steamy shower.
  • Consume warm fluids (soup or tea) to provide relief for a stuffy nose and to loosen phlegm.
  • For nasal stuffiness, try saline nasal spray or a Neti Pot.
  • For sore throat pain relief: suck on throat lozenges, hard candy or popsicles; gargle with warm salt water (1/4 tsp. salt per 8 oz. of water); and eat soft, bland foods.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. If you cannot, ensure you are getting enough nutrients by taking a daily multivitamin.
  • Avoid dairy products, as they can thicken phlegm.
  • Avoid alcohol, as it impairs your body’s immune system.


  • High fever
  • Ear pain
  • Sinus-type headache
  • Unusually severe cold symptoms
  • Cough that gets worse while other cold symptoms improve
  • Flare up of any chronic lung problem, such as asthma


Contact the SHCC Pharmacy with any questions or concerns about medications: (352) 392-1760.

Cough, Non-productive (not coughing up phlegm)

  • Cough suppressant containing dextromethorphan (Robitussin® DM or Delsym®)

Cough, Productive (coughing up phlegm)

  • Cough suppressant (see above)
  • Expectorant: Mucinex® tablets or plain guaifenesin syrup, also known as Robitussin®

Fever/Headache/Muscle Aches

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol®)
  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil®) or naproxen (Aleve®)

Nasal Stuffiness

  • Nasal steroid sprays: Flonase® or Nasacort®
  • Decongestants:
    • Topical spray: Oxymetazoline (Afrin® Nasal Spray); limit to 3-4 days maximum
    • Oral medication: Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®) – MUST BE PURCHASED FROM PHARMACIST

Runny and/or Itchy Nose/Sneezing

  • Nasal steroid sprays: Flonase® or Nasacort®
  • Antihistamine: Benadryl®, which will likely cause drowsiness, or Loratadine (Alavert®), which is not as likely to cause drowsiness

Sore Throat Pain Relief

  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®).
  • Try throat sprays (Chloraseptic®).

Information above adapted from the SHCC’s “What to Take for Your Cough or Cold” and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work”.