Though you can’t exactly cure it all on your own, these home remedies for flu can certainly help ease the symptoms and boost your immune system going forward for the rest of flu season. More than that, the quicker you recover, the more likely you are to avoid the serious complications that can sometimes be caused by the influenza virus. For treatment at home, try these natural and proven remedies, but first let’s make sure we know what we’re dealing with: is what you have a cold or the flu?
Symptoms of Flu vs. Cold
Influenza has a lot of the same symptoms as the common cold, but it can be a much more serious condition. Though they are both respiratory illnesses, the cold and the flu are each caused by different viruses, and infections from the flu virus can carry some severe side effects. We’ll run through some of the dangers, and the differences between the two illnesses here.
The Differences Between Cold and Flu
With such similar symptoms, knowing the difference between having a common cold or the flu could be the difference between life and death (especially for children, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems). Colds are often more mild than the flu, but how can you really know the difference when you’re feeling so poorly either way? Well, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), flu onset is abrupt, whereas a lot of people can let you know when they “feel a cold coming on.”
The flu usually comes with symptoms like fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, chest discomfort, and headache, while those symptoms are rarer in colds. Sore throat, sneezing, and a stuffy nose? Those are symptoms more often associated with a cold. It’s not exactly a clean split down the middle, but you can take the sum of your symptoms and make a pretty decent educated guess: no one knows your body better than you do.
The Dangers of Cold vs. Flu
Cold symptoms, while tiresome and uncomfortable, do not often lead to serious health complications in otherwise healthy people. A bad case of influenza, however, can result in bacterial infections, pneumonia, and hospitalizations. Some people are at higher risk from these dire outcomes, those over the age of 65, those with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or asthma, women who are pregnant, and children under age 5.
Other complications that can result from flu include ear and sinus infections, myocarditis or inflammation of the heart, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), inflammations of muscle like myositis or rhabdomyolysis, and in particularly extreme cases, sometimes multi-organ failure. Medical assistance should be sought right away if your symptoms involve mental confusion, 5 days of sustained symptoms, or difficulty breathing.
Home Remedies for Flu
Here are some scientifically backed natural remedies for flu symptoms that you might want to keep around your home in case the sudden onset of flu finds you or your loved ones. Of course, if the symptoms cannot be mitigated and only keep getting worse, consider going to a doctor or trusted medical provider before worse comes to worst. However, if your bout with flu doesn’t feel life-threateningly dangerous, try these remedies to see if you can get some relief from its aches and pains while you recover.
Known commonly as a spice, ginger root makes a great flu treatment due to its ability to ameliorate nausea and vomiting. In a 2009 randomized clinical trial, ginger was shown to successfully help cancer patients offset the nauseating side effects of chemotherapy. Ginger root can be consumed in powder form, in capsules, via extracts, or by drinking organic ginger ale (with no corn syrup added) or ginger tea.
Bacteria that are beneficial to your gut health, probiotics can be especially helpful if you’ve been in contact with someone who has the flu and wish to guard against it, because they can fortify your gut defenses against the invading virus. On top of that, probiotics containing the bifidobacterium and lactobacillus species of bacteria can also help reduce nausea or diarrhea if you’re in the throes of the flu already.
A natural remedy for the treatment of respiratory issues like sore throats, coughs, colds, flu, and even bronchitis, the oils of oregano (called carvacrol and thymol) have been shown to have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Oregano oil can help lower a fever by encouraging the body to sweat, can calm your stomach if you’re suffering from nausea or vomiting, and can aid in proper digestion if your flu comes with painful diarrhea.
You’ll want to buy P73 oregano oil, which stands for “polyphenol 73 percent,” and an adult’s dose would be somewhere between 3-20 drops per day depending on the concentration of your product (refer to the item’s instructions to find the proper recommendation). This medicinal oregano oil also provides zinc, calcium, copper, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorous, all of which are immune system boosters.
Oregano oil can be taken mixed in juice or water, and it’s recommended that you swish and then swallow the mixture four times per day until your symptoms are gone. It can also be rubbed on the chest much like Vicks VapoRub to clear your bronchial passages—just mix it with some olive oil for rubbing, or boil it in hot water and breathe in the steam to help clear your sinuses.
Olive Leaf Extract
Olive leaf extract or OLE is the phytochemical oleuropein extracted from the olive leaf. It’s been researched for its anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antiviral activity. Easily taken as an oil or (if you’d prefer) in tea or capsule form, olive leaf extract is safe for both young children and adults to help fight cold and flu symptoms.
A cough suppressant and clear source of zinc (it’s right in the title there, isn’t it?), zinc lozenges and syrup have been shown to reduce the length of colds if taken within a day of symptoms showing, can boost the immune system, and prevent/treat lower respiratory infections, along with providing aid against flu symptoms. Be cautious though: zinc nasal sprays are not recommended, as they have been known to temporarily and sometimes permanently inhibit a person’s sense of smell.
NAC (N-acetyl L-cysteine)
NAC is an over-the-counter amino acid supplement derived from the amino acid cysteine, and may be available at a local health food store or easily obtained from online ordering. NAC is frequently used to treat acetaminophen (found in Tylenol) overdoses and poisonings in hospitals because it helps to prevent damage of the liver.
NAC is an antioxidant that boosts the immune system and can reduce the severity of flu symptoms. A study has shown that it can shorten the duration of the flu as well, with the lead author of said study asserting that “administration of N-acetyl L-cysteine during the winter appears to provide a significant attenuation of influenza and influenza-like episodes, especially in elderly high-risk individuals.” If you are one of those high-risk individuals, or if worry over your parents or grandparents is always vaguely on your mind during flu season, this remedy might not only help them avoid the flu, but could also offer you some peace of mind.
Another essential oil that can be applied similarly to oregano oil as a vapor or in a diffuser, eucalyptus oil is associated with antiviral and antibacterial qualities, and widely used as a cold remedy for the same reason it may help ease flu symptoms. When inhaled, eucalyptus oil can help to clear nasal passageways. Use it in a humidifier, and it might help you sleep (and breathe peacefully) through the night at a time when a good night’s rest might make or break the viral battle being waged inside your body.
From the elderberry fruit, this syrup provides anti-inflammatory and antioxidant support, has been shown to shorten both colds and flus, and even relieve unrelated sinus infections, so it’s an excellent wellness staple to keep in your home.
With anti-inflammatory amino acids contained within it, bone broth’s ease of digestion makes it invaluable to a flu sufferer who can’t keep down anything solid at the moment. Good for both cold and flu symptoms, bone broth provides minerals and vitamins that may have been severely depleted by diarrhea or vomiting, and the steam coming off it can also relieve your nasal congestion while you eat (or rather sip).
Epsom Salt Bath
Not only can it ease the body aches that come with the flu, an epsom salt bath encourages vasodilation (to increase your white blood cell count), and its alkalizing effects can boost your immunity. Bring your preferred essential oil with you to an epsom salt bath, and the steam coming off the warm water will help your nasal passages clear as your body soaks in its benefits.
Other Best Practices
There are always the tried-and-true options a lot of us grew up with to ease cold and flu symptoms as well. These remedies are oldies but goodies.
- Gargle with warm salt water. Mix salt and water in a mug, heat it up, and gargle over a sink (for spitting out gunk) to help clear and comfort your throat.
- Eat chicken soup. Eating some chicken soup will provide you the nutrition of the ingredients, plus the same warmth and salt for your throat that gargling salt water offers.
- Drink tea with lemon and honey. Herbal tea, lemon, and honey will all help calm a cough, soothe a sore throat, and settle your stomach if you’re feeling nauseous (plus it helps keep you hydrated as well).
- Take some vitamins. Specifically B vitamins to combat fatigue, as well as zinc, vitamin D3, and vitamin C for their immunity-boosting abilities. A daily multivitamin could have all of the above, but you can supplement more specifically if desired.
Take the Yo(u) Out of Flu
Of course we all hope for the best of luck each and every flu season, but with these options for flu prevention and symptom remedy, you’ll be prepared to cope if your luck runs out. Remember to wash your hands, stay home if you can, and always stay hydrated.