Natural Approaches to the Common Cold

Tis the season to be jolly, and for some, sneezy. Accompanying the winter season many find themselves experiencing annoying colds and upper respiratory infections.  While some of these infections are caused by bacteria, the majority are caused by viruses. Because antibiotics are only effective for treating illnesses stemming from a bacterial source, antibiotics have little use for the majority of virally-induced illnesses. The unnecessary use of antibiotics promotes antibiotic resistance, which promotes development of  “super infections” down the line.    Most viral infections are self-limiting, meaning that the body will mount an appropriate immune response, and eventually “fight” off the infection, which may take days or even weeks. Although there are many over the counter cold medications, these generally just suppress symptoms but do not rid the body of the infection.  Once the medication wears off, the symptoms resurface.

The good news is, there are certain safe and natural home therapies that can expedite the process and help you return to health in a more timely manor. However, for individualized treatments, it is ideal to visit your Naturopathic Doctor who can assess your symptoms and put together a more targeted and effective treatment plan.

I. Steam inhalation:

This is an effective therapy for the treatment of respiratory conditions, including the common cold, sinusitis, bronchitis, allergies and asthma. Adding essential oils helps deliver potent anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal medicinal actions found in nature to the entire upper respiratory system.

Some of the benefits include:

  • reducing inflammation and congestion of upper respiratory mucus membranes
  • relieving throat irritation (by inhaling moistened air)
  • loosening secretions and stimulating mucous from throat and lungs (expectorant)
  • calming coughs by relaxing the smooth muscles.


  1. Heat up a pot of water on the stove.
  2. When it reaches a boil, add 5-10 drops of a “Respiratory Blend” or “Sinus Blend” of 100% essential oils (purchase at health food store) or any combination of the following essential oils: thyme (coughs), eucalyptus (sinus congestion, decongestant), hyssop, peppermint, rosemary, lavender (relaxing)
  3. Turn the stove flame to the off position
  4. Then lean over the pot and take deep, full inspirations, inhaling the steam all the way to your lungs.  You can cover your head with a towel to have a more intense inhalation, letting air out if it gets to warm
  5. Continue for 10 minutes
  6. *** Please use caution with hot pot and boiling water. Do not leave children unattended, as severe damage can occur with such hot water.

II. Salt Water Gargle

Gargling with salt water can soothe sore throats and prevent complications. Most upper respiratory infections are initiated by viruses, but bacteria in the mouth and throat can cause secondary infections when tissues are inflamed and especially susceptible. Salt water kills bacteria by osmosis (creating a hypertonic environment in which their cell walls rupture). Natural sea salt is preferable to regular table salt that has been refined by industrial processes using chemicals and heat to extract minerals.


  1. add ½ teaspoon sea salt to ½ cup warm water.
  2. Taking small sips, gargle with the solution and allow it to coat the back of the throat, then spit it out.
  3. Repeat until all of the salt water has been used. Do this twice per day or more as needed.

III. Neti Pot:

Also called nasal irrigation or lavage, this therapy has roots in Ayurvedic medicine and has been used for thousands of years. It is a safe, gentle, effective and all-natural way to  relieve sinus symptoms caused by colds, flu, allergies and sinusitis.

How it works:

Irrigating the nasal cavity helps keep the cilia (tiny thin hairs lining the nasal cavity) moving so they can flush out bacteria, allergens and other irritants.  As congested sinuses are breeding grounds for infection, reducing congestion is essential to preventing infections and expediting the time to get over an existing infection.

Safety Precaution:

  • Concern has recently arisen about nasal washing being another way to introduce water contaminated by Naegleri fowleri into the nose. To protect against this or other contamination:
  • Use bottled water, distilled water or previously boiled water cooled to body temperature before use.
  • Keep it clean.  Thoroughly clean the pot with hot water and a little antibacterial soap after each use.


Many companies that make Neti Pots which can be purchased at most health food stores.

1. Prepare the Saline Solution

The simplest way

  • Purchase the salt packs that are sold for use with Neti Pots.  These are sold separately, and should be in the same section as the Neti Pot.
  • You will add 1 packet to 1 cup (8 oz) of warm distilled or previously boiled water, cooled down to room temperature.  It should feel pleasantly warm to the touch so as to not irritate your nasal passage with either too hot or too cold water.  Mix the water and the salt well until salt is fully dissolved.

Making your own solution

  • Purchase non-iodized table salt. Sea salt is not recommended, as it is sometimes too strong and may irritate.
  • Mix approximately 1/4 teaspoon of fine table salt into about 1 cup (8 oz.) of warm distilled or previously boiled water, cooled down to room temperature.  It should feel pleasantly warm to the touch so as to not irritate your nasal passage with either too hot or too cold water.  Mix the water and the salt well until salt is fully dissolved.

2. Fill your Nasal Cleansing Pot

Once you have the saline solution mixed, pour it into the Neti Pot. You may choose to actually mix it right in the pot to save a step.

3. The Process of Nasal Cleansing

  • Nasal Cleansing is best done as part of a regular hygiene routine. As you will have saline water flowing and mucus being discharged, it is best to practice this process over a sink or basin.
  • Lean forward and turn your head to one side over the sink, keeping the forehead at the same height as the chin, or slightly higher.
  • Gently insert the spout in the upper nostril so it forms a comfortable seal.
  • Raise the Neti Pot gradually so the saline solution flows in through your upper nostril and out of the lower nostril.  Breathe through your mouth.
  • When the Neti Pot is empty, face the sink and exhale vigorously through the nose without pinching the nostrils.
  • Refill the Neti Pot and repeat on the other side. Again, exhale vigorously to clear the nasal passages.

4. Cleaning your Nasal Cleansing Pot

After use, simply wash out the pot with warm water and dish soap and rinse away all soap and other residues. Some products are dishwasher safe.

5. Helpful Video demonstration

IV. Simple Immune Boosting Broth

Some of the most potent anti-microbial compounds are found right in the pantry!  This is a very basic recipe that has 3 major immune system enhancing properties.  These foods can also be used in dishes and foods to promote immune system function.


Add each of the following to a pot.  Boil on stove. Sip throughout the day:

  • 2 boxes chicken broth
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 5 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1-2 inches chopped ginger

IV. Doctor Visit

A visit to the doctor is in order if symptoms do not improve after one week, if the sick one is vomiting, or if fevers exceed 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Fevers can be a healing reaction because viruses and bacteria are less likely to survive at higher temperatures and enzymes that the body uses to fight infection become more effective. However, this does not apply to infants less than three months old, children or adults with immune deficiencies, and individuals undergoing cancer treatment. These people should not delay discussing fevers with their doctor.

By Dr. Stacey Kupperman