“Winter is coming” is not just the motto of House Stark, it’s also the maxim of me, hater of colds, obsessive washer of hands and over-preparer of first aid kits. As the days get shorter and the nights colder, I’m prepping my home as a defensive strategy to ward off colds and flu. That said, my toddler goes to daycare so part of me knows that resistance is futile. For this reason, I’ve gathered together a hit list of at home treatments to be used when the dreaded lurgy does strike. (#Pray4Me.) It goes without saying that if you do fall sick, a visit to your doctor is usually in order. But for the times you know all you can do is rest, a few adjunct strategies can hit the spot. From herbal supplements to DIY essential oil blends, these are the surprising ways we knock out a cold overnight in my family.
#1: Get Yourself a Neti Pot
Neti pots are weird, magic lamp-shaped vessels designed to help rinse out your nasal cavity. I used to be a skeptic. Then, about two months ago, I came down with the head cold to end all head colds. My sinus was so stuffed up I couldn’t smell, and because I was mouth breathing so much, my throat got dry too. Cute. Unable to take cold and flu medication due to breastfeeding, I bought a neti pot and gave it a go in the shower. To use, you fill it with warm salty water and pour through one nostril at a time whilst holding your breath. (To me, it felt like when you’ve been dunked in the ocean and water is forced up your nose – eek.) It did the job. I slept much more soundly and the next morning there had been a significant improvement in my head cold. Colour me converted.
#2: Consider a Herbal Supplement
Depending on who you speak to, herbal supplements are either a must-have in treating a cold, or absolute snake oil. I like to think of them as a way of supporting my body through a tough time and believe in their ability to help me heal alongside other remedies. Personally, I don’t lose sleep over whether they really work or not, but that’s just me. (Always speak to your doctor if you’re unsure.) ArmaForce is my herbal supplement of choice, which is made from andrographis, echinacea, olive leaf, vitamin C and zinc – all said to be helpful in decreasing the severity and duration of colds. If you see a naturopath on the regular it might be worth asking them to whip you up a herbal tincture (a highly concentrated liquid extract) to keep on hand as we head into cold and flu season.
#3: Invest In a Humidifier
Humidifiers are a great way of scenting your home with essential oils (just drip them into the water repository) but they’re also good for keeping the air nice and moist. Sounds strange but dry air (the kind winter brings) can irritate your throat and make it more difficult for you to breathe when you’re sick. (Added humidity is also good for alleviating the flaky nostrils and cracked lips that can come with blowing your nose constantly.) The thing about humidifiers is that, if not looked after properly, they can actually breed harmful bacteria – not the kind of thing you’re looking to encourage when you’re already battling a bug. Dirty water can produce a mist that triggers asthma and allergies and worsens cold symptoms so be sure to give your humidifier a good wash every now and then.
#4: Try an Essential Oil Blend
Do you use essential oils? I do. I am completely convinced they work and I know I’m not alone. Many people believe in the antibacterial and antiviral properties of select oils, and, like me, keep a tight edit around for dealing with just about everything. My go-to blend for fighting off a cold is homemade and includes a mix of eucalyptus, camphor, cedarwood and peppermint. It’s quite powerful but is amazing at relieving a blocked sinus and reducing respiratory symptoms. I either add a few drops to a hot bath, use it in a diffuser to scent the whole house or drip a little into the repository of the humidifier in my bedroom (see above) for a peaceful sleep. When diffused into the air the particular oils I use are said to help kill off airborne microbes, but even if they don’t, they sure do smell nice.
#5: Get Into Bone Broth
If you ask me bone broth is the new coconut oil. If Instagram is to be believed it’s a foolproof fix for everything. (Sore throat? Bone broth. Brittle nails? Bone broth. Credit card debt? Bone broth.) In all seriousness, it’s a solid remedy for colds and flu due to the high proportion of immune-boosting minerals. (Chicken bone broth, in particular, is rich in the amino acid cysteine which can help to break down mucus making it easier for you to breathe.) Drinking it warm as is will help to soothe a sore throat and boost your hydration levels, but you can also dress it up by adding in vegetables, turmeric, and high-quality chicken for extra goodness. If you’ve got a blocked nose, add a generous pinch of chilli flakes – it’s a trick that never fails to clear out congestion in our household.
#6: Go To Bed Early
This tip may be boring but it works. (Sorry.) Giving your body the rest it needs to recuperate is incredibly important if you’re going to feel back to your normal self in a timely manner. Sleep deprivation can actually have an adverse effect on your immune function, and chronic sleep loss is believed to both increase your vulnerability to infectious diseases and prolong your cold symptoms. It makes sense to catch maximum z’s when you’re under the weather to give yourself the best chance to heal. When you’re feeling unwell it can be all too tempting to tee up all the new Netflix shows you’ve been saving for one giant Hydralyte-fuelled binge, but it might be a better idea to grab a book and read in bed. That way you can drift off as your body needs and get all the R&R you really need.
If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, your first port of call should be your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.