How to Deal with Cough and Colds: OTC Drugs and Natural Remedies to Consider

The common cold has no cure. But you can ease the symptoms, which may include cough, body malaise, nasal stuffiness, and sore throat.

Here are some of the cough and cold medicines and other natural remedies you can try at home to experience relief from cough and colds.

Over-the-counter drugs

OTC drugs can ease different cold symptoms. However, you have to choose one that can treat the symptoms you have. 

Cough medicines

Coughing is a common cold symptom because it is your body’s way of expelling unwanted microorganisms and mucus.

Here the two types of cough medicines:

  • Cough suppressants – These drugs can help relieve coughs that interfere with your sleep or daily activities. It blocks the nerve impulse that stimulates your cough reflex. Dextromethorphan is the most common active ingredient in OTC cough suppressants.
  • Expectorants – These cough capsules make the mucus thin and loose so that you can cough it out easily. It helps remove mucus faster. Guaifenesin is the most active ingredient in OTC expectorants.

Nasal decongestants

If you are experiencing a congested nose, nasal decongestants can unclog it. It constricts the blood vessels along your nose to decrease mucus production and shrink swollen tissues. This way, air can pass through easily.

Active ingredients in most OTC nasal decongestants include phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine.

Pain relievers

The common cold can cause different types of pain, including headaches, earaches, muscle aches, and sore throat. Pain relievers can relieve any of these aches as well as lower fever.

The active ingredients in OTC pain relievers include ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen.

If you are experiencing one or more cold symptoms, it can be safe to combine any of these drugs to deal with them. But read the label first to ensure that you won’t be taking too much of any medication because most cough and cold medicines available today contain more than one active ingredient.

Natural remedies

Together with medication treatment, there are natural home remedies to help alleviate cold symptoms.


Peppermint leaves have healing properties. They contain menthol that helps soothe the throat. It is also a decongestant as it helps break down mucus. You can benefit by inhaling peppermint vapors directly above 5 ounces of hot water with 3-4 drops of peppermint oil.


A study has shown that honey has a cough-suppressing property. To use it, add 2 teaspoons of dark honey to your herbal tea or warm water.

Honey can also be added to lemon juice. The honey soothes the throat, while the lemon juice eases congestion.


Most people don’t consider pineapple as a remedy for coughing. This is probably because they haven’t heard of bromelain.

Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapples. Studies have shown that it can help loosen mucus and suppress a cough. It can also treat inflammation and swelling.

To reap the benefits of bromelain, drink fresh pineapple juice or eat a slice of pineapple three times a day. If you don’t like pineapples, bromelain supplements are good alternatives.


Thyme can relieve respiratory symptoms. Its leaves have flavonoids, which are compounds known to relax the throat muscles responsible for coughing and reduce inflammation.

You can make your thyme tea by adding 2 teaspoons of crushed thyme leaves to a cup of boiling water. Cover it, let it sit for 10 minutes, and strain.


Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties which help relieve cough, pain, and nausea.

A study suggests that ginger works by relaxing the membranes in the airways to suppress coughing.

To make ginger tea, add 20-40 grams of fresh ginger slices in 1 cup of hot water. You can add lemon juice or honey to relieve a cough further.

Salt-water gargle

Salt-water gargle is effective at treating wet cough and sore throat. It helps reduce mucus and phlegm at the back of the throat, thereby reducing coughing episodes.

Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in one cup of water. Let the solution cool slightly before gargling it. Allow it to sit at the back of your throat for a few seconds before spitting it out. Use this salt-water gargle until your cough improves.


Drinking fluids at room temperature can relieve cough, sneezing, and runny nose. But if you suffer from additional cold symptoms, you can benefit more from warming up your beverages.

Hot beverages that can help alleviate cold symptoms include herbal teas, clear broths, warm fruit juices, and decaffeinated black tea.

Marshmallow root

Marshmallow root has been known to treat sore throat and cough because it contains high mucilage. Mucilage is a gluey, thick substance that can coat the throat.

Marshmallow root is available as a bagged tea or a dried herb. The longer it sits in water, the more mucilage it produces in the drink.


Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that provide several health benefits. Though they don’t relieve cold symptoms directly, they help balance gut flora. This balance supports resilient immune system functioning to avoid upper respiratory tract infections.

You can take over-the-counter probiotics or eat fermented foods, such as yogurt, miso, kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut, sourdough, and tempeh.

Though the common cold is self-limiting, it can be debilitating. Its symptoms can cause a significant decline in your bodily functions and productivity at work. Luckily, there are medicines and natural remedies to deal with it at home. But if your symptoms persist, seek medical help immediately.