Television commercials can lead you to think that there’s a magic pill for everything, including the common cold and head congestion. Ad after ad promises that if you take their drug cocktail, presto – you’ll feel like your old self again.
The reality is, however, most commercial cold remedies don’t do much, if anything, at all. Studies on most cough syrups have repeatedly shown they don’t actually work any better than water, and many of these common cold preparations contain numerous drugs, all of which can have unpleasant side effects. For example, many over-the-counter decongestants contain stimulants that can disturb sleep or even prevent you from sleeping.
And of course you already know that no medication out there will actually cure a cold, not even prescription antibiotics, because colds are caused by viruses that do not respond to antibiotics.
So is all lost? Are you doomed to spend the nights propped up on pillows, unable to breathe? Fortunately there are some natural home remedies that actually work to loosen congestion and make you feel better while you wait for the cold to run its course.
Remedies for Head Congestion
• Drink lots and lots of fluids. It really does make a difference. Drinking water, broths, herbal teas and sports drinks can all thin mucus secretions. Avoid alcohol or caffeine altogether, as they have the opposite effect.
• Inhale steam. Take a hot bath or shower and enjoy the moment. Breathe more slowly and relax.
• Be careful when blowing your nose. Blowing too hard can actually push germ-filled fluids into your ear passages, so instead, press a finger over one nostril and blow gently to clear the other. Use extra soft tissues to soothe a sore nose.
• Forget the chemical-filled nasal sprays at the drugstore and make your own. Using a salt-water rinse breaks up congestion and helps clean the nose of virus particles. Following is an effective recipe:
Combine ¼ teaspoon salt with ¼ teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water. Use a bulb syringe to gently squirt the mixture into your nose while leaning over a basin. Use a finger to press one nostril closed, and then let it drain. Repeat several times, and then switch nostrils. Be sure to boil or sterilize the bulb after use or you could spread your germs to others.
• Drink hot liquids to ease congestion and soothe inflamed membranes. If your congestion keeps you up at night, make a hot toddy, a traditional home remedy. To hot herbal tea, add a teaspoon of honey and 1 ounce of whiskey or bourbon. However, remember that alcohol is dehydrating, so limit yourself to one hot toddy only.
• Try putting a menthol salve on your chest or below your nose to open nasal passages. At your drugstore you can find menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus varieties.
• You may also be able to find hot packs to put around your nose. If not, you can heat a damp washcloth in the microwave for 30 seconds and use that.
• Do prop yourself up with a pillow at night to help your sinuses drain. You may wish to arrange your pillows carefully so that the slope is not too uncomfortable.
• Invest in a humidifier, especially if you live in a dry climate. Be sure to clean it regularly to prevent a build-up of bacteria.
• Avoid strong smells, perfumes and smoke, all of which can aggravate congestion.
• Get rest whenever you can. Congestion usually isn’t completely debilitating 24 hours a day. It tends to come and go every few hours, offering you some respite at several periods in a day or night. Take advantage of those times when you can actually breathe to get some sleep.
In most cases these simple home remedies will help you get through the 7-10 days of the common cold a little more comfortably. However if your congestion lasts more than 10 days, or if you have a fever that spikes, disappears, and spikes again a few days later, you may indeed have a bacterial infection that needs medical treatment, perhaps even antibiotics. Be sure to consult your physician if your condition simply does not get better, or if it worsens.