November 14, 2022/Rheumatology & Immunology

5 Cold and Flu Remedies You’ll Want to Skip

From garlic to elderberry, here’s how not to get rid of a cold

Person sick in bed drinking hot tea for comfort.

Whether it’s from your grandmother or an influencer on Instagram, advice surrounding cold and flu season can come at you from every which way, and leave you wondering which remedies will help ease your runny nose and sore throat — and which will fall flat.


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Some sound legitimate, and others are decidedly quirky, but which ones will really help? Here, we’ve rounded up some popular remedies you’ve likely heard about for the common cold and flu and explain why they might not be as effective as you think. Plus: What you should do instead.

No, this berry won’t cure your cold

It sounds mystical, sweet and like it may just be the cure you’re looking for. Elderberry has made its way into all of the common drugstore products against colds: lozenges, cough syrup, tablets and more. But as Michael Macknin, MD, professor emeritus of pediatrics at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine explains, this humble berry might not be the cure-all it’s been touted to be.

Try this instead: This doesn’t mean you can’t use home remedies or even what’s in your own fridge to soothe your cold and possibly speed up its exit (as long as you pair this with plenty of rest and fluids). Pour yourself a cup of chicken noodle soup to make sure you’re getting enough protein and try an ice pop to alleviate your sore throat.

Don’t put that in your nose…

One of the worst things that come with getting the cold or flu is congestion. That heavy feeling of stuffiness can be so frustrating, you may have seen some folks try putting garlic up their nose as a way to clear congestion faster — and documenting the experiment on platforms like TikTok for all to see. This internet trend is definitely one you shouldn’t try. In fact, as otolaryngologist Raj Sindwani, MD explains, doing this may even lead to worse mucus buildup.

Try this instead: If your nose is still stuffed up and you can’t seem to find relief, there are other remedies that are safer and more efficient. Using neti-pots is a common way to flush out mucus, and humidifiers and saline sprays can help as well.

A magical cider?

You may have a friend who swears by something called fire cider — which actually isn’t hot at all — to heal their immune system when they’re sick. Registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, points out that while many of the ingredients in this concoction — apple cider, honey, ginger — certainly have health benefits, it won’t burn away your cold or flu.

Try this instead: If you’re looking to keep your immune system in top form, try following an anti-inflammatory diet rather than throwing back mixtures. And if you are looking for something hot that will soothe your sore throat, classic herbal teas and hot soups will help. You can also try other remedies like gargling and steam to ease the pain.

But surely vitamin C can help…

If there’s one thing vitamin C is known for, it’s keeping your immune system strong. So, it’s natural to think that vitamin C supplements or powders can kick your cold to the curb faster. However, family medicine physician Donald Ford, MD, explains that while this vitamin won’t do any harm, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that it’ll make your cold disappear significantly quicker.


Try this instead: The best way to take advantage of vitamin C is by including it in your regular diet.You can get all the vitamin C (as well as many other useful vitamins) your body needs by having a daily dose of fruits and greens like strawberries, oranges, spinach and more.

Flower power?

According to some, the purple-petaled echinacea flower may be the key to boosting your immune system and, in turn, sending your sniffles and sore throat packing. Wellness and preventive medicine specialist Robert Saper, MD, MPH, explains that there isn’t much research backing the use of this herbal remedy for the common cold — especially if it comes in the form of supplements. Plus, it’s still unclear what possible harm it could do for pregnant people or people with certain allergies.

Try this instead: While there isn’t a magic pill that will strengthen your immune system overnight, a combination of lifestyle changes and immune-boosting foods in your diet can keep you sick-free all year round. That means a good balance of antioxidants and prebiotics, as well as plenty of sleep and exercise.


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