Home Remedies That May Help You Feel Better When You Have the Flu

An article from the UVM Health Network 2020 Flu Education series

With Sarah Spengler, RN, UVM Health Network - Home Health & Hospice

There are many traditional and non-traditional home remedies people use to feel better when they’re sick. Home remedies won’t shorten the duration of flu, but can make you more comfortable as the illness runs its course. See below for a few you can try at home, but note it’s important to check with your primary health care provider before starting any new medication or supplement, even if it’s over the counter, to be sure it’s safe for you or your loved one.

For congestion:

  • Inhale steam 1-2 times a day for 5-10 minutes in the shower or in the bathroom with the shower running to loosen mucus.
  • Use a neti pot or nasal rinse after inhaling steam 1-2 times to help clear mucus. Be sure to only use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water. Tap water is not safe.
  • Use nasal saline spray to help loosen mucus.
  • Take over-the-counter cough medicines can help break up mucus and decrease cough.
  • Take over-the-counter oral or nasal decongestants to help clear a runny nose and relieve postnasal drip. Check with your healthcare provider before taking these, especially if you have high blood pressure or prostate problems. Be mindful that nasal decongestants can make your symptoms worse if used more than 3-5 days.
  • Feeling too congested while you’re trying to sleep? Add an extra pillow under your head to help with drainage of nasal passages.

For sore throat and cough:

  • Gargle with warm salt water 2-4 times a day to reduce throat swelling and loosen mucus.
  • Diffuse cool or warm mist while sleeping to moisturize the nose, throat and lungs.
  • Drink hot tea with lemon to loosen congestion. Add honey to help with cough (but not for people with diabetes or children less than a 1 year old).
  • Use menthol lozenges to soothe a sore throat. They increase saliva to help keep throat moist. Try cold liquids and popsicles for children who could choke on lozenges.
  • Use over-the-counter throat sprays to numb sore throat pain.

For headache, body aches and fever:

  • Over-the-counter pain/fever reducers may help, but get the OK from your healthcare provider before taking.

For nausea and upset stomach:

  • Ginger tea is a soothing way to decrease nausea.
  • Eat small amounts throughout the day to make meals easier to digest.
  • Eat bland foods and avoid dairy as it can be difficult to digest.

General tips:

  • Stay hydrated — but don’t overdo it! It’s a common myth that fluids will flush out an illness, but it is possible to drink too much fluid and cause other problems. Broth-based soups are also good for hydration and keeping electrolytes balanced. Be mindful of any fluid or dietary restrictions (such as sodium) recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Feeling uncomfortable while lying down? Try a pillow under your knees, or lie on your side with a pillow behind your back and one between your knees.
  • Most importantly, get lots of rest! Your body needs energy to heal.

What about supplements?

Over-the-counter supplements, including elderberry syrup and echinacea, have been studied, but there’s not enough evidence to determine whether or not they’re helpful in reducing symptoms or shortening flu’s duration.

What else do I need to know?

If you’re feeling sick longer than two weeks or aren’t able to manage the illness on your own, call your healthcare provider.

Remember, home remedies can help you to manage flu on your own, but if you’re very sick, concerned about your illness or are at high risk for flu complications, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

For more information on early warning signs of when to seek medical care, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm.

Sarah Spengler, RN, is infection prevention and patient safety coordinator for UVM Health Network - Home Health & Hospice, serving patients of all ages in Chittenden and Grand Isle counties. Learn more at UVMHomeHealth.org.