Few things can ruin your month like a nasty cold or flu. Even a mild bout of the sniffles can throw a wrench into your daily routine (not to mention your workout), while a full-blown case of the flu can sideline you for weeks with a fever, chills, and a hellish case of grouchiness.
But unlike bacterial infections, viruses like colds and influenza are only combatted by the body’s immune system. The best way to fight them off, therefore, is to be your immune system’s best ally—while taking care of the symptoms that make life so miserable.
“With the cold, the best thing we can do is to treat the symptoms,” says Donald Ford, M.D., a family medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Those remedies all center around three basic ingredients: Getting rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and making sure you have electrolytes or salt. “Your body is fighting the virus by sending antibodies and trying to wash the infection away,” Ford says. “Your job is to make sure the body has enough fluid to fight the virus.”
One old saying that holds true: An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. “Diet, exercise, and routinely taking care of your body—maintaining good health in general—will help you avoid bad consequences of a cold or influenza,” says Dr. Pritish Tosh, M.D., an Infectious Disease Specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and a member of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group.
Speaking of prevention, there’s one simple way to stave off the flu: Get your flu shot. “The flu shot not only helps reduce your risk of getting influenza, but also helps prevent the people around you from getting influenza—older people, or people with weakened immune systems," Tosh says.
But if you still fall ill, try these home cold and flu remedies with proven benefits for your body. And remember: If you feel sicker than normal or you’re noticing unusual symptoms, get thee to a doctor right away.