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Home Remedies or Brand Names for the Common Cold?

Traditional cold and cough remedies may be at least as effective as the typical drugstore treatments but with fewer side effects.
Lisinopril, ACE inhibitor

The sniffle season has arrived. Commercials for cold and flu medicine are everywhere. But what should you buy?

Is Alka-Seltzer Plus Night Cold & Flu Liquid Gels the answer or should you select Tylenol Cold & Flu Severe Warming Liquid? What about Contac Cold + Flu Day/Night Combo Pack Maximum Strength + Multi-Symptom Relief?

While the rest of us suffer, drug companies and pharmacy chains are licking their chops. The cold and flu season is in full swing and sales are robust. There’s gold in sneezes, sore throats and coughs.

There has been such a proliferation of complicated cold remedies on drug store shelves it is hardly any wonder the American public is confused. You can choose between Multi-Symptom Hot Liquid Packets, a Flu and Body Aches Formula or Cough and Head Congestion Relief.

Although the names make it seem as if each product is targeted for a specific set of symptoms, in reality the ingredients in most products are remarkably similar.

Antihistamines: Helpful or Harmful?

Antihistamines are a mainstay of most cold remedies. Check labels and you are likely to find names such as chlorpheniramine, brompheniramine, doxylamine and diphenhydramine.

But are antihistamines helpful against the common cold? Health experts have testified to Congress that such compounds “cause cold sufferers more harm than good and should be banned from the products.” And medical consultants for Consumers Union believe that “antihistamines have no place in cold remedies.”

While antihistamines can make adults drowsy, they can sometimes stimulate children. A well-meaning parent decides to give little Johnny some medicine to stop the sniffles and cough so he can get some sleep. But this intervention could boomerang, especially if there is also a decongestant in the formula. The cough could be calmed but the child may be wide awake for hours because of drug-induced insomnia.


Long-acting multi-symptom preparations also pose a risk for some people. The 12-hour relief that is advertised can occasionally turn into unrelenting side effects. High blood pressure, anxiety or sleeplessness can be complications of decongestants such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. Men with enlarged prostates can end up in great distress if they unwittingly swallow a decongestant.

Pain Relievers?

The ubiquitous pain reliever/fever reducer in cold and cough remedies seems illogical to us. For one thing, colds rarely cause pain. Reducing a mild to moderate fever may actually be counterproductive as this short-circuits the body’s immune reaction to the invading viruses.

So what should a cold or flu victim do when the throat gets scratchy or a cough starts to take its toll? We have become big fans of home remedies and alternative treatments. Chicken soup, ginger, vitamin C, zinc lozenges and onion syrup are among our favorite remedies.

If home remedies are your thing too, then chicken soup and ginger are old standbys. The ginger recipe requires a half-inch piece of fresh ginger. It should be ground into a paste and put in a mug. Pour boiling water over it, and let it stand a few minutes. Then pour off the clear liquid into a clean cup, sweeten it to taste and take it morning and night for two days.

Here are just a few stories from visitors to this website:

Ginger Tea

“I have had the symptoms of a cold for about 6 months with post nasal drip causing phlegm and coughing at night. Last night I made some ginger tea which I drank before bed.”

“I did not cough once during the night and woke up with a clear nose and throat and I could breath without the rattle of excess phlegm in my throat. I am having some more tonight.” Arthur

“I have a bad cold. I have been using ginger tea made with grated fresh ginger, with a little apple cider vinegar.

“I heat a cup of water in the microwave, take a teaspoon of the grated ginger WITHOUT STRAINING, add one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, a pinch or turmeric and a little ground black pepper, anti-inflammatory.

“Drink as hot as possible. My upper respiratory symptoms are gone within 5 minutes of finishing the drink. I think that the raw ginger pieces are the best remedy; fiery hot all the way down to the stomach, but that is part of feeling better. Stay warm until your cold is over.” Fluf


“I have a variation of the ginger tea. It’s in the form of ginger soup.

“Wash ginger and strip off the skin. Crush ginger with the side of the knife.

“Boil ginger in water. Once boiling, lower the temperature and add chopped green onion.

“Add 2-3 egg whites and mix until egg is cooked.

“I take this ‘soup’ when I get sick and it helps remedy the symptoms. Most of the time it also cures the cold. My family has been doing this for sick members and I will pass on the tradition to my young’uns when I have them.” Adrian

“I made the tea with garlic and maple syrup and my cough immediately disappeared!” Sally

Onion Syrup

“My grandmother (who would have been 99 at the end of the month) used to make onion syrup for us when we were children. I remember onion and sugar but thought there was something else in it. Nope, that’s it!

“I just made it for my 5-year-old son who was never sick before starting school and now got a bad cough.
“Onion syrup still works like a charm. I switched it up a bit and added raw local honey and it seems like that works just as well as sugar.” A.M.

“My grandmother, Mami M., used to make a version of this many years ago. I think it worked great. I was almost never sick with my Mami around to dose me with her home remedies as needed (all except the castor oil and that was my biological mother’s favorite weapon).

“The honey & onion syrup she made not only worked well, but tasted nice. She used to also use a drop or two of “Agua Ardiente” (Crystal)…if the honey onion syrup did not fix ya, the alcohol for sure did (you had to get better in self defense or more would follow!).” Marguerite

“When my kids were babies and got croup I made onion syrup on the stove, cut a few onions in half and cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer real low & slow with enough water just to cover (a couple of hours); sweeten with a little sugar or honey (depending on childs age).

“Nothing worked better, croup gone in a day or so.” Sally

No matter which way you treat a cold–drug store formula or old-fashioned remedy–know when to consult a doctor. Symptoms such as severe sore throat or hacking cough, swollen glands, dark green or yellow mucus, serious sinus pain, or debilitating aches and pains require medical attention. Such signs could signal type A influenza and there is a treatment for that. Antiviral drugs can shorten the severity and duration of the flu if taken promptly.

If you would like to get more details on cold remedies you may wish to consult our Guide to Coughs, Colds & the Flu. You will learn more about zinc, vitamin D, Astragalus root, Andrographis, thyme and Echinacea. What’s more, you will get Grandma Graedon’s famous Chicken Soup Recipe! Here is a link to the download.

Share your own favorite cold and cough remedy below in the comment section.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Colds, Coughs & the Flu

Download 8 pages of natural approaches to treating colds, including zinc, vitamin C and herbs. Recipes for ginger tea, hot toddies and a powerful chicken soup.

Colds, Coughs & the Flu
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I’ve made the onion syrup but nowhere does anyone say how much is a dose or how to store it.

Airborne is a pretty good remedy for me if taken at first sign or a symptom coming on.

I take zinc snd extra d at first sign of a cold and nips it right away.

A great natural decongestant is to use dried culinary thyme to make a tea. Add 1 TSP to 8 oz hot water an steep for 2-4 minutes. Strain thyme or use a tea ball ( you can find at Dollar Tree) Sweetened with honey or stevia or other natural sweetener and serve hot. It works for adults and children without the insomnia or nervousness from pseudoephedrine. It tastes great too so there is no fight to get kids to drink it.

Now if you want to avoid the cold altogether just start taking 2000 mg vitamin C and the first sign of a scratchy throat. If you can’t catch it early enough at least your cold won’t be bad.

I avoid colds altogether by taking vitamin D, 2000units/day starting in the fall and don’t stop until summer. It has been a decade since I have had even a sniffle.

what do i think? i think your pic for this item is disgusting! i’m not posting that to my facebook, seriously, get a grip!

When I feel sneezy with a scratchy throat and I think a cold may be coming on—I rub Vicks generously on my neck and throat. I breathe the fumes all night long and next mornings all cold symptoms are gone.

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