How can I treat the common cold at home?

Dear Doctor,

I caught a cold from my toddler and whereas she seems to be getting better, mine has many issues, including the fact that I’m losing my voice. It is now hoarse and I’m wondering if there is anything that can get it back to normal. What home remedies can you recommend for the common cold?


Dear Victoria,

 “Common cold” consists of nasal symptoms, like blocked or running nose, or burning sensation in nose. One may have more than one symptom, for example, a running nose in the morning, or stuffiness in the evening.  There may be associated malaise, headache, muscular pains and or fever.

Most of the cases of common cold are caused by viral infections.   It is contagious. A person sneezing can infect another person sitting close to them. This happens by means of inhaling virus containing droplets, which are expelled in the atmosphere by the infected person while sneezing or even talking. Severity of infection depends on the load of microbes inhaled and resistance of the person exposed.  Viral infections subside by themselves within a week, thus not needing any active treatment. Few cases of common cold may occur due to bacterial infection, where there may be severe pain, headache and high fever.

There can be some individual develop recurrent cold due to allergy to something present in the atmosphere. There can be recurrent cold if there is repeated exposure to the allergy producing substance.  At times a person may develop cold due to allergy and secondary infection may occur due to presence of nasal secretions, causing headache and fever.

Deviated nasal septum (DNS) is a condition where there is deviation of the partition present between the two nostrils.  This increases the vulnerability to have recurrent cold.

Common cold can occur at any age and in either gender. Due to being connected anatomically, infections of the nose can affect the throat and or ears. This can manifest as dry cough, sore throat, enlarged tonsils, ear pain and or discharge, and etcetera.   At times, infection can spread to the   air sinuses in skull, resulting in sinusitis.

Prevention of cold lies in improving hygiene. A disposable tissue should be used to wipe the nose, when a person is sneezing/has running nose. Hand washing is an important preventive tool, both for the person suffering from cold and the care giver as well. Objects used by the sick person like pen, mobile phones, and etcetera, also need to be cleaned after use, otherwise if contaminated, they also become source of infection.

As such, since most of the cases of common cold are self-subsiding, no active treatment is needed. Drinking adequate amount of water, drinking warm water and other warm fluids, steam inhalation, are measures that help one to feel better. In case of muscular pains, or headache, painkillers like paracetamol are useful. 

In case of high grade fever or sudden severe chest pain or severe coughing, medical consultation should be sought.

 Dr. Rachna   Pande is a specialist in internal medicine.

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