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When you have a cold or flu, you know how miserable it can make you feel. Typical flu symptoms include aches and pains, fever, and fatigue. A cold may cause nasal congestion, coughing, and a sore throat.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Cold and Flu

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu as symptoms may overlap. For example, both colds and the flu may cause muscle aches, headache, and fatigue. But there are some differences.

Usually, a cold can occur gradually over the course of a few days while the flu has a more sudden and abrupt onset accompanied by more severe symptoms found with the common cold. The duration of the illness also varies. Cold symptoms may last about a week, whereas, certain flu symptoms, such as fatigue, can persist for up to two weeks.

Traditional Cold and Flu Treatments and Side Effects

Whether you have a cold or flu, you want quick relief. Since both infections are caused by a virus, they are not treated with antibiotics. If it’s confirmed you have the flu, antiviral medication may help decrease the duration of the flu. But antiviral meds can cause side effects including nausea, diarrhea, and headache.

When it comes to the common cold, treatment options include decongestants and over-the-counter pain reducers. But they too can have undesirable side effects, such as increased heart rate, dry mouth, and headache.

Naturopathic Medicine and Remedies for Cold and Flu

Fortunately, you have other options to treat common symptoms of a cold and flu. Natural healing remedies has been used for hundreds of years to treat everything from pain to chest congestion, which can be helpful in providing relief for cold and flu symptoms.

Natural healing remedies used by naturopathic practitioners can include herbs, vitamins, and minerals along with botanical medicine. These can be beneficial for a cold or the flu in several ways. For instance, natural remedies may soothe irritated nasal passages that can occur with a cold. Naturopathic medicine may also relax the muscles of the upper airway to decrease cough. Certain vitamins and minerals may play a role in boosting the immune system to fight infections that cause colds and the flu.

RELATED: Traditional Chinese Medicine Principles for Preventing Common Cold and Flu

Treating Symptoms

Symptoms of a cold or flu can last for several days or longer. The severity of symptoms can also vary. Several naturopathic remedies can treat the following symptoms:


Nasal and chest congestion are common symptoms of a cold. A clogged nose can make you miserable and may last several days. Naturopathic remedies may help ease symptoms. Consider the following:

Cinnamon: Cinnamon can be helpful to decrease congestion and help you breathe easier. It also has antibacterial properties, which may help prevent secondary bacterial infections. Try adding ground cinnamon to hot tea the next time you have a cold.

Eucalyptus: To alleviate congestion naturally, consider using eucalyptus. Eucalyptus oil is often an ingredient in chest rubs for colds. Place a few drops of eucalyptus oil in hot water and breathe in the stream to open your nasal passages.

Sore Throat

Sore throat is a common symptom that accompanies the cold or flu. A sore throat can also be a sign of something more serious including strep throat. So, if symptoms persist or are accompanied by a fever, see your healthcare practitioner. The following remedies may decrease sore throat pain:

  • Marshmallow: To ease the discomfort naturally, try marshmallow, which may decrease inflamed mucous membranes. Before you eat a bag of marshmallows, drinking marshmallow root tea is more effective for a sore throat.
  • Slippery elm bark: Slippery elm bark powder can be an effective treatment for a sore throat. Mix a tablespoon of powder with a tablespoon of honey to ease throat pain.

Cold and flu symptoms often include a cough. Coughing can not only be annoying, it can also prevent you from getting to sleep. The following natural remedies may help:

  • Plantain Leaf: Studies have indicated that plantain leaf may be helpful to treat a cough. For example, a clinical trial in Bulgaria showed the plantain leaf may decrease coughing due to chronic bronchitis. German Commission E (the German equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration) approved the internal use of plantain leaves to ease coughs.
  • Honeysuckle: Honeysuckle is an anti-inflammatory and can decrease irritation and coughing. It may also reduce a sore throat. Try brewing a tea with honeysuckle at the first signs of a cough.
Antiviral Botanicals

Antiviral botanicals are herbs used to treat viral infections. Certain herbs may have anti-viral properties that decrease symptoms or the duration of an illness. Consider the following:

  • Elderberry: Elderberry may contain properties that decrease viral activity and prevent it from entering the cells and reproducing. It also contains vitamins A and C, which may give a boost to the immune system to help you fight infection.
  • Echinacea: Echinacea contains polysaccharides, which may improve the body’s ability to fight infection.