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Sniff, sniff, sniff. Cough, cough, cough. It's the soundtrack of winter.
Problem is, silencing this soundtrack with traditional medicines can lead to other kinds of disruptions. Decongestants and their overstimulating chemicals have the capacity to keep you up all night, while many cold meds will put you down for the count faster than you can say "Let me breathe." And mixing meds can be downright dangerous.
That's why Travis Stork, M.D., cohost of The Doctors and author of The Lean Belly Prescription, turns to natural remedies to stay congestion-free. Try these tips this cold season and you will too.
"You may not realize you're thirsty, but your body still needs water," says Stork. Increasing your water intake can help thin mucus and flush it from your system faster, relieving a stopped-up nose. Liquids such as non-caffeinated tea, juice, and broths can also help do the job, but others—like alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated sodas—don't do a sickly body good. They can worsen dehydration, making your nose an even drier place for bacterial infections to fester.
If congestion is in your nose, chances are it's in your chest, too. Compared with the main ingredient in cough suppressants, honey may be just as effective at decreasing cough frequency and severity, likely because of its antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. It's also soothing to an irritated throat. Try this: Before you hit the hay, take two tablespoons of honey and be glad you're not sipping cough syrup. Stork likes to serve his honey with hot, caffeine-free tea, which can help open and hydrate nasal passages.
Cold viruses thrive in dry nasal passages. Thanks to winter's combination of cold, dry outdoor air and warm, even drier indoor air, it's no wonder the cold is so common this time of year. Luckily, relief is just one hot shower away, says Stork. Steam acts as a natural decongestant, opening and moisturizing otherwise dry noses. Also, a humidifier can add constant moisture to the air—and your body. Try the Honeywell HWM-950 Warm Moisture Humidifier ($34, amazon.com).
Sip Chicken Soup
Mom was right: Chicken soup does wonders for a cold, says Stork. It inhibits the production of inflammatory compounds that are released in a viral infection, helping you breathe easier. Plus, by upping your hydration factor, chicken broth can loosen congestion and thin mucus. It doesn't hurt that the soup is packed with antioxidant- and nutrient-rich ingredients such as chicken, carrots, and onions, he says.
Skeptical of neti pots? Don't be. Several recent studies have found that nasal irrigation can reduce symptoms of respiratory infections. "Once you feel congestion coming on, start saline irrigation," says Stork. "It literally washes out your sinuses, flushing away germs, mucus buildup, and even pollutants and allergens that can contribute to congestion and cold-like symptoms." Meanwhile, saline nasal sprays moisturize your nasal passages, helping them to clean themselves of infections naturally. And unlike nasal decongestants, nasal irrigators and saline sprays don't lead to rebound congestion. Try Arm & Hammer Simply Saline Sterile Saline Nasal Mist ($6, drugstore.com) and SinuSense Neti Pot ($13.48, walmart.com).