Alternative treatments used for the common cold

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Alternative treatments used for the common cold include numerous home remedies and alternative medicines. Scientific research regarding the efficacy of each treatment is generally non-existent or inconclusive.[1][2] Current best evidence indicates prevention, including hand washing and neatness,[3][4] and management of symptoms.[5]

Vitamin C[edit]

Vitamin C was identified in the early part of the previous century and there was much interest in its possible effects on various infections including the common cold.[6][7][8] A few controlled trials on the effect of vitamin C on the common cold were carried out already in the 1940s,[8] but the topic became particularly popular after 1970, when Linus Pauling, a double Nobel laureate, wrote a best-selling book Vitamin C and the Common Cold.[6][9] Pauling's book led to great interest in the topic among lay people, but also among academic circles. After Pauling's book, a number of controlled trials were carried out. However, the interest disappeared after the middle of 1970s apparently due to the publication of two reviews and one primary study, which all concluded that vitamin C does not influence the common cold. However, the three papers were later shown to be erroneous.[6][7][8][9]

According to the Cochrane review on vitamin C and the common cold, 1 g/day or more of vitamin C does not influence common cold incidence in the general community.[8] However, in five randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trials with participants who were under heavy short-term physical stress (three of the trials were with marathon runners), vitamin C halved the incidence of colds.[8] In the dose of 1 g/day or more, vitamin C shortened the duration of colds in adults by 8% and in children by 18%.[8] Vitamin C also decreased the severity of colds.


Echinacea flower

A systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration, last updated in 2006, examines sixteen randomized controlled trials studying various echinacea preparations for prevention and treatment of the common cold. Echinacea showed no benefit over placebo for prevention. Evidence for treatment was inconsistent. Reported side effects were rare.[2]

2007 meta-analyses conclude that there is some evidence that echinacea may reduce either the duration or severity of the common cold, but results are not consistent.[10]

Use of echinacea preparations is not currently recommended.[1][11][12][13][14][15]

Chicken soup[edit]

In the twelfth century, Moses Maimonides wrote, "Chicken recommended as an excellent food as well as medication."[16] Since then, there have been numerous reports in the United States that chicken soup alleviates the symptoms of the common cold. Even usually staid medical journals have published tongue-in-cheek humorous articles on the alleged medicinal properties of chicken soup.[17][18][19]

Pelargonium sidoides extract[edit]

A 2013 Cochrane review found tentative evidence of benefit with Pelargonium sidoides for the symptoms of the common cold; however, the quality of the evidence was very poor.[20]

Steam inhalation[edit]

Many people believe that steam inhalation reduces cold symptoms.[21] A 2006 systematic review concludes that "there is insufficient evidence to support the use of steam inhalation as a treatment."[22] There have been reports of children being badly burned by accidentally spilling the water used for steam inhalation.[23]


Zinc is tentatively linked to a shorter length of symptoms but not less severe symptoms.[24]


  1. ^ a b "A Survival Guide for Preventing and Treating Influenza and the Common Cold". American Lung Association. August 2005. Archived from the original on 2007-01-08. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  2. ^ a b Linde K, Barrett B, Wölkart K, Bauer R, Melchart D (2006). Linde, Klaus, ed. "Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1): CD000530. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000530.pub2. PMID 16437427. 
  3. ^ Boyce JM, Pittet D (October 2002). "Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health-Care Settings. Recommendations of the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee and the HICPAC/SHEA/APIC/IDSA Hand Hygiene Task Force. Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America/Association for Professionals in Infection Control/Infectious Diseases Society of America" (PDF). MMWR Recomm Rep 51 (RR–16): 1–45, quiz CE1–4. PMID 12418624. 
  4. ^ "Staying healthy is in your hands - Public Health Agency Canada". 17 April 2008. Archived from the original on 6 June 2008. Retrieved 5 May 2008. 
  5. ^ "Common Cold: Treatments and Drugs". Mayo Clinic. Archived from the original on 12 February 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c Hemilä H (2006) Do vitamins C and E affect respiratory infections? Thesis, Medical Faculty, University of Helsinki, 2006 ISBN 952-10-2837-8
  7. ^ a b Hemilä H (2009) Vitamins and minerals. In:"Common cold" (Eccles R, Weber O, eds.) Birkhauser Verlag, pp. 275-307 doi:10.1007/978-3-7643-9912-2_13
  8. ^ a b c d e f Hemilä H, Chalker EB (2013) Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev CD000980 doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4 Refs to the review:
  9. ^ a b Hemilä, H (1997). "Vitamin C supplementation and the common cold - was Linus Pauling right or wrong?". Int J Vitam Nutr Res 67: 329–335. 
  10. ^ Shah, SA; Sander, S; White, CM; Rinaldi, M; Coleman, CI (July 2007). "Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis.". The Lancet infectious diseases 7 (7): 473–80. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(07)70160-3. PMID 17597571. 
  11. ^ "Common Cold". National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 2006-11-27. Archived from the original on 23 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  12. ^ Simasek M, Blandino DA (2007). "Treatment of the common cold". American Family Physician 75 (4): 515–20. PMID 17323712. 
  13. ^ "Common Cold (Upper Respiratory Infection)". The Merck Manual Online. Merck & Co. November 2005. Retrieved 2007-06-13. 
  14. ^ The Natural Standard Research Collaboration (2006-08-01). "Echinacea (E. angustifolia DC, E. pallida, E. purpurea)". Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Archived from the original on 16 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  15. ^ "Echinacea". University of Maryland Medical Center. 2005-09-22. Archived from the original on 15 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  16. ^ Rosner, F (October 1980). "Therapeutic efficacy of chicken soup". Chest 78 (4): 672–674. doi:10.1378/chest.78.4.672. PMID 7191367. 
  17. ^ Rennard, Barbara O.; Ronald F. Ertl; Gail L. Gossman; Richard A. Robbins; Stephen I. Rennard (October 2000). "Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro". Chest 118 (4): 1150–1157. doi:10.1378/chest.118.4.1150. PMID 11035691. 
  18. ^ Caroline, NL.; H Schwartz (February 1975). "Chicken soup rebound and relapse of pneumonia". Chest 67 (2): 215–216. doi:10.1378/chest.67.2.215. PMID 1090422. 
  19. ^ Ohry, Abraham; Jenni Tsafrir (1999-12-14). "Is chicken soup an essential drug?". Canadian Medical Association Journal 161 (12): 1532–3. PMC 1230870. PMID 10624412. 
  20. ^ Timmer, A; Günther, J; Motschall, E; Rücker, G; Antes, G; Kern, WV (22 October 2013). "Pelargonium sidoides extract for treating acute respiratory tract infections.". The Cochrane database of systematic reviews 10: CD006323. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006323.pub3. PMID 24146345. 
  21. ^ Braun BL, Fowles JB, Solberg L, Kind E, Healey M, Anderson R (2000). "Patient beliefs about the characteristics, causes, and care of the common cold: an update". The Journal of Family Practice 49 (2): 153–6. PMID 10718693. 
  22. ^ Singh M; Singh, Meenu (2006). Singh, Meenu, ed. "Heated, humidified air for the common cold". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 3: CD001728. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001728.pub3. PMID 16855975. 
  23. ^ Akhavani MA, Baker RH (2005). "Steam inhalation treatment for children". Br J Gen Pract 55 (516): 557. PMC 1472796. PMID 16004753. 
  24. ^ Das, RR; Singh, M (9 April 2014). "Oral zinc for the common cold.". JAMA 311 (14): 1440–1. PMID 24715076.