What Alternative Cold Remedies Really Work?

By , By Amanda Greene Kelly, of Woman's Day

Cold Cure-All?

They say there’s no cure for the common cold, but walk though any drug store and you’ll see plenty of products trying to convince you otherwise. In addition to antihistamines and pain relievers, there are plenty of homeopathic remedies—products containing diluted amounts of minerals and ingredients––stocking the shelves. But do they really work? We spoke to doctors and got their take on the most popular treatments. Read on to learn which ones are worth reaching for when you feel a cold coming on, and which to pass up.


This purported immune-system booster, which is available in effervescent tablets, packets and chewables, encountered some trouble in 2008 when the company was sued for falsely claiming that the remedy prevented colds. Airborne eventually settled the class-action lawsuit, and changed its promise. Now, the blend of 14 vitamins and herbs claims to “help support your immune system.” So is it worth a try if you’re feeling ill? “It’s essentially a multi-vitamin with some herbal supplements as well,” says Yael Halaas, MD, ENT, an ear, nose and throat doctor based in New York City, meaning it doesn’t contain any magic cold-busting ingredients. And according to Linda Dahl, MD, a New York City board-certified otolaryngologist and surgeon, homeopathic remedies don't undergo the same type of testing that over-the-counter and prescription drugs do. “There’s no way to say if it will help one person versus another. If you eat well, take vitamins and get sleep you’ll be in good shape. This remedy won’t hurt, but it won’t necessarily help, either,” she says. However, if you are deficient in certain vitamins, it might be worth a shot.



The original formula of Emergen-C is a vitamin drink mix that contains 24 nutrients, including 1,000 mg of vitamin C. Experts are mixed about whether or not the added dose of C will ward off colds. According to Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, MD, a board certified doctor of internal medicine in Atlanta, some studies show that vitamin C has no effect, while others suggest it can reduce the severity and duration of a cold. Keep in mind that 1,000 mg of vitamin C is at the top end of the recommended daily dosage; the doctors we spoke with confirmed that it’s fine to try when you feel a cold coming on, but that it does not have proven results. You should also avoid taking it daily in the long term—too much vitamin C can cause stomach pain and diarrhea.



By including zinc gluconate in its formula, Cold-EEZE claims to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold. And it really works: According to Frederick Southwick, MD, professor and chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Florida, “There is evidence that says when you use zinc in lozenge or spray form (which work topically, by coating the throat with zinc) it can work to shorten the length and severity of colds.” A 2003 study in the Quarterly Journal of Medicine found that spray zinc gluconate—which is what is used in Cold-EEZE––reduced the symptomatic period of a cold from six days to 4.3 days when used within 24 to 48 hours of the first signs of illness. This evidence suggests that Cold-EEZE lozenges are a good bet to take at the first sign of a cold.

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    Do you use any of these cold remedies? Have they worked for you? If so, which ones?

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    I am rarely sick. Until my accident, I rarely took pills. We eat limited processed food, a lot of poultry based soups, lots of garlic and onions. Report
    AIRBORNE is a complete waste of money. After being sued, I can't believe they are still on the market. If you want a vitamin, then take FLINTSTONE chewables which are real vitamins and about a few cents each. Report
    Chicken Soup for me. When I was a kid my mom used to give us black tea with lemon, honey and a little of whiskey. We would jump under the covers and sweat it out. Report
    I got a chuckle about echinacea. My sister had some echinacea tea, when her hubby came down with a miserable cold. He dragged himself into the kitchen one morning and said, "Lydia, do you have that euthanasia tea left?" That's been a running joke in our family! Report
    Cold-eez: NOT with Coumadin. Report
    Goldenseal tea. Report
    When I was 19, I had a terrible cough on Christmas Eve, hours before our family's celebration. My dad gave me a cup of orange juice with a shot of vodka in it and I didn't cough for the rest of the holiday season, lol. Report
    We use good old garlic and honey and it works every time! Chop/mince a clove of garlic, put it in a teaspoon, coat with honey (preferrably raw) and swallow! We usually take 2-3 cloves per day during an active infection and then 1 per day afterwards as well as a preventative. Report
    I used to be very skeptical of these types of cold remedies, but shortly before Christmas I started feeling as though I were coming down with a cold. I just couldn't be sick at that time of year so I headed off to the store and picked up some Zicam Ultra (in lozenge form) and started taking it per package directions. My cold lasted exactly three days. Three days!! I highly recommend this product if you can tolerate the aftertaste--sort of a stainless steel flavor that lingers until you can wash it down--which you're not supposed to do for at least 15 minutes. I'd still use this product again, though, as I do not appreciate being sick. Report
    I have used Airborne whenever I went someplace where I might be exposed to a lot of people during cold season. I've also used Emergen-C off and on over the years. They're not a cure, but they do help boost my immune system. I've never gotten sick while I was taking them. I used to get several times a year. Report
    I generally stick to hot soup and herbal tea and sleep to recover from a cold. I will take honey and lemon juice to sooth a cough irritated throat. I usually have a dry cough formula in the medicine cabinet when a cough interferes with sleep. Report
    I don't believe any of these products work for me.

    I eat a lot of fruit and veggies already, so Emergen-C just overloads me with Vitamin C. (Whereas it works amazing for my anti-veggie DH, haha!)

    As for Airborne, is it just me or does that stuff just plain not work?!

    For me, I find rest + Tylenol + drinking Theraflu does wonders. Thanks to my to-do list, I tend to go-go-go, so being a couch potato with my kitties for a day or two is the perfect medicine for me! Report
    I haven't tried any of these products. I have diabetes so I would check the ingredient label to see how much sugar is in it. I'm wondering if anyone else has checked out these products for their sugar content. Report
    I've tried Emergen-C.

    I took it when I had a cold as well as bronchitis. Didn't work. no relief from my symptoms at all. I've found that good old fashioned cup of tea with honey or even soup did more for my symptoms than Emergen C did.

    And I gave it a shot. I drank several packets. no effect.

    I swear by Emergen-C Report
    As soon as I feel any symptoms of a cold or flu coming on I immediately take COLD-EZE and Airborne. I have not been seriously sick with either of them in years. And if I do get sick it only lasts a day or two. Report
    I love Airborne. I have used it for years at the first sign of a cold and continue taking it until the signs pass. I almost never catch a cold when doing this and the few I have caught, have been mild and short-lived if I use the Airborne during them. Report
    ALLABOUTLOVE - I like that idea. I'll have to try that (when I'm feeling poorly - sounds like great comfort food). I've found that eating well, getting proper rest & exercise have helped keep the proverbial lucky horseshoe on my insides resistant so far. Report
    I've never used any of the above, but I have used Zicam, and to me it works. Whenever I feel a cold start to come on, I take it immediately. I also got my husband to take it after he was sick and it immediately made his symptons go away. I highly reccommend it. (Knock on wood) I haven't been sick in over a year, since I found Zicam. Report
    If I feel a cold coming on, I make a tomato soup with 1 whole onion and 1 whole bulb of garlic and Italian seasoning. It tastes wonderful and it is a lot less expensive than over the counter stuff. Report
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