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How do you get rid of the flu quickly? Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a viral disease that seasonally affects millions of people. Two flu types most frequently affect people: influenza A and influenza B, with symptoms such as a runny nose, coughing, fever, and body aches1.
The United States flu season tops the chart around February, as seen through the CDC’s weekly surveillance reports on flu activity. The information that is released each week during any flu season is preliminary and subject to change as more data becomes available.
Almost everyone catches the flu during the season, so you need to have everything you can to fight it. This article gives 13 ways on how to get rid of the flu overnight, ease your symptoms and leave you breathing easier.
Simple, but effective! Blow your nose gently but frequently. Inhaling mucus back into your nose might cause sinus discomfort, or create earaches caused by infections when germs are forced back into the ear canal through the eustachian tube – the tube that runs from the ear to the back of the nose and mouth. Getting the mucus out of your system stops this from happening.
However, blowing your nose too hard can be damaging2, so you need to blow gently.
Also, consider applying warm packs around your nose to reduce any inflammation of the mucus membranes3.
How to Blow Your Nose
When you have the flu, gargles should be a daily habit. Even simple water gargles can reduce the symptoms4.
Adding salt to these water gargles improves their effectiveness. Salt and warm water gargling helps clear the mucus buildup and soothe the nose and throat. The antibacterial qualities of the salt fight infection while the water moisturizes the throat. A Scottish study (ELVIS) found that gargling and doing nasal irrigation with salt water reduced the length of people’s symptoms of the common cold by around two days5.
The common cold is caused by different viruses to influenza6, but salt has also been shown to contribute to the inactivation of influenza viruses7 8.
ELVIS recommends the following method for gargling with home-made hypertonic saline solution (saltwater) three to twelve times a day9.
When you have the flu, resting should come first; take it as a chance to recharge your body's immune system. Sleep helps you because it is a key part of your immune system’s cycle10. The duration and outcome of an infection is affected by how much sleep you get and how chronically sleep deprived you are11.
How to Ensure You Get Plenty of Rest
Steam inhalation has long been used for treating colds because it has always been believed that steam might inhibit viral replication and improve congestion. Evidence suggests that breathing in some steam can ease your flu symptoms13, reduce congestion14, and help you sleep15, making you feel better.
Methods to Use Steam to Get Rid of the Flu Quickly
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that multiple nutrients from a healthy diet assist in building a strong immune system, and when it comes to healthy eating, it's important to prioritize including a variety of fruits and veggies, lean protein, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products16. Saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars should all be kept to a minimum when eating healthy.
To ensure that your body has enough nourishment, the Mayo Clinic advises against skipping meals. You should aim for five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily to receive enough vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support the immune system17.
Additionally, here are some specific foods you may not have considered that can help when you have the flu and support your immune system more generally.
Elderberries (the fruits of the elder tree) are a traditional folk remedy for the flu. There is also rising scientific evidence for their effectiveness. A few studies have shown elderberry extract or juice to lessen flu symptoms18. They have also been shown in one randomized controlled trial to shorten the length and severity of colds more effectively than a placebo; it is hypothesized this is due to their level of antioxidants19. However, the evidence is still limited.
If you decide to make your own elderberry juice instead of buying a supplement, keep in mind that the berries must be cooked thoroughly to prevent sickness or cyanide toxicity. The rest of the plant is dangerous and should never be consumed in any way; only the berries should ever be used.
Since ancient times, people have used garlic extensively as a spice, functional food, and traditional medicine to treat various diseases, including infections. Garlic’s high antioxidant content, quercetin, and other therapeutic oils offer antiviral properties to assist in boosting the immune system and lower the severity of flu symptoms20.
Honey is a powerhouse of an immunity boost, full of antibacterial qualities that help get rid of the flu. Studies suggest that it exhibits significant antiviral inhibitory effect, suggesting potential medicinal relevance21. Honey is also as effective, if not more so, than cough syrups for reducing coughing, particularly in children22.
This bee product can be consumed with salt or black pepper. Alternatively, putting a tablespoon of honey in a cup of warm water or milk works well 23.
Beetroot juice is high in two immune-supporting chemicals: antioxidants2425 and nitric oxide (NO)2627.
Nitric oxide in particular may have antiviral properties2829.
Additionally, beetroot juice is particularly useful during stressful times. It can counteract the blood-pressure-raising effect of stress, both for healthy people30 and people wit respiratory difficulties31.
It also helps with the suppression of the immune system that comes from stress – during periods of psychological stress, beetroot juice guards against cold symptoms and there may be specific benefits for those with asthma, which could result in fewer asthma flare-ups brought on by respiratory infections32.
Beetroot itself can be consumed and beetroot juice is available as a drink.
Drinking plenty of fluids is a common folk remedy for the flu. Hot drinks, such as tea or soup, help relieve congestion by increasing the runniness of your nose mucus33, and can relieve coughs if paired with honey (as discussed above). Additionally, if you have developed a fever due to the flu, then you may require more fluid than normal due to sweating a lot, so drinking more replenishes that.
However, there is little empirical evidence that drinking more than usual helps relieve the flu or cold any faster34. Additionally, increasing your fluid intake too much can be harmful35 and even deadly in some cases36.
Some cases of children with the flu dying have been attributed to overintake of fluids37.
The best state for the body is to be in balance. Therefore, when you have the flu, do use hot drinks and soups to relieve nasal congestion but also do not force yourself to drink more than you need.
To stay healthy, one must practice good hygiene. It protects you from several types of germs that could harm you. While flu-stricken, pay even more attention to your hygiene practices to stop yourself from catching any more illnesses while you’re already under the weather, and to stop your flu spreading – you probably don't want anyone else to feel as bad as you do.
Staying at home is part of this38. You will likely not feel well enough to go out anway. However, because you are staying at home, there is a greater chance that someone in your household will become ill.
So, what can you do to keep them safe?
When you have a fever, wrapping up warm is probably the last thing on your mind. However, according to researchers, staying warm, specifically keeping your body temperature within the fever range (100–106°F; 38–41°C), actually strengthens your immune system40. Additionally, keeping your environment warmer will help limit the transmissibility of the flu virus41.
How to Keep Warm if You Have the Flu
Cold air has a lower capacity to store moisture; if you already have the flu, cold, dry air might make your sore throat worse. Additionally, the flu virus spreads more easily in cold, dry air42.
This is where a humidifier might be useful. A humidifier gently releases steam into the environment from an internal source. If you don't have one, leave a shallow bowl of water out, especially close to a heat source. The evaporating water will gradually increase the room's humidity. Steam rooms are commonly considered to relieve congestion43, so you can try making your own!
If you can’t steam an entire room, try more targeted steam therapy. Steam thins the mucus in your sinuses, making it easier to breathe44 and helping you sleep45. Fill a large bowl with freshly boiled water, lean over it, and place a towel or blanket over both you and the bowl. Breathe in the steam until the water cools.
You can read a more in-depth review of steam therapy here.
Essential oils can treat or help you recover from your flu by reducing its symptoms46. The best approach to utilize essential oils for the flu is by inhalation, such as in a humidifier or through steam therapy. Inhaling these oils can decrease the intensity of headaches47 and clear clogged airways. Aromatherapy can also make your home smell better, which can elevate your mood, promote restful sleep, and reduce stress.
Essential oils can be inhaled directly from the container or put a few drops to a cotton ball or handkerchief. They can also be placed in a humidifier or in a bowl of hot water that you lean over. Use this procedure to clear your nasal passages and improve your breathing. Below are some essential oils to relieve flu signs and symptoms:
Read on for more refreshing essential oils for a cough when you have a flu here.
Supplements are potent immunity boosters that can, in the right balance, help fend off opportunistic bacteria, viruses and infections. For this reason, you should consider supplements that boost your immune system.
If you are deficient in a vitamin or mineral, your body will benefit from taking a supplement that restores their level up to normal.
However, there is little proof that taking more of these supplements than the recommended daily amount is advantageous. Because your body needs to work extra hard to metabolize what you consume, it can sometimes be hazardous and these supplements can have unforeseen effects.
It is challenging to provide definite recommendations on the dose, formulation, and duration that should be utilized due to this and the variations in study populations, dosages, formulations, and treatment length.
Still, certain vitamins and minerals are extremely helpful in supporting your immune system and fending off the flu:
Also known as the "sunshine vitamin", vitamin D keeps teeth, muscles, and bone healthy. It is available as a food supplement and in is present in many foods, including salmon, fortified milk or juice, egg yolks, and mushrooms. Studies suggest that consuming more vitamin D may reduce your risk of getting the flu and the likelihood of a serious case if you do57.
Considered by many to be a strong supporter of the immune system, vitamin C supports the physical barriers that shield your body from pathogens (for instance, the epithelial cells of your skin) and aids in the formation and operation of immune cells. Very high daily doses and consistency in intake of vitamin C supplements can shorten the length of colds and even help prevent them58.
This dietary mineral helps recover from and prevent colds, especially when taken as soon as cold symptoms appear and regularly taken as a supplement5960; however, certain delivery methods can have side effects, such as loss of smell when using nasal sprays61 or a bad taste and mouth irritation when using lozenges62.
Probiotics are live cultures of beneficial microorganisms, often served as yoghurts. They may regulate the immunological activity, which can lead to better health. Probiotic strains have been shown to protect against respiratory infections in some trials. Two studies from 201263 and 201564 found that taking probiotics preventatively may lower the length of upper respiratory tract infections, the number of sick days, and the amount of antibiotics prescribed for such infections.
Another analysis from 201465 showed that probiotics help guard against viral infections, lower the chance of catching a common cold, and reduce the number of symptomatic days from common colds in healthy individuals.
The evidence for probiotics is not the strongest, but overall they work better than placebos in preventing or relieving colds66.(
Echinacea is a plant recommended by herbalists to help boost the immune system and fight infections. Daily echinacea use may lessen the likelihood and length of upper respiratory infections like a cold67, but research findings have been so weak as to be clinically or statistically insignificant68.
Echinacae can interact with certain medications, especially immunosuppressive ones69. Therefore, before using this supplement, consult with your doctor if you take any medications.
The best way how to get rid of the flu quickly is to take antiviral drugs as soon as the flu symptoms appear. According to studies, taking antiviral medications for the flu within the first two days after becoming ill has the most restorative effect70. Even if the sick person is at a higher risk of developing major flu complications or is hospitalized with a more serious disease, starting them later can still be useful.
The CDC has identified four FDA-approved antiviral medications to treat flu71:
Flu antiviral medications are a class of prescription drugs (pills, liquid, powder for inhalation, or intravenous solution) that work to combat flu viruses in your body. Antiviral medication is not available over the counter. They are only available with a prescription from a medical professional.
Consider taking the following OTC medications to lessen the discomfort associated with particularly cold and flu symptoms:
Supplements, such as vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc, may give you an advantage over the common cold and flu. Still, they should only be used in addition to your foremost line of defence, which consists of good hygiene, adequate hydration, a healthy diet, restful sleep, pain relievers, and exercise. If symptoms persist, call or visit your doctor as soon as possible.
The best way to get rid of the flu quickly is to not get the flu at all. The flu vaccine is an effective preventative measure that can stop you from catching that year’s influenza strains and can reduce the severity of the illness if you still catch it 72. It is administered through both an injection and a nasal spray. The flu shot activates the immune system by exposing it to viruses. The body's defense mechanism against the flu in response is the development of antibodies. The flu vaccine cannot cause you to develop the flu, is very safe, and is the best line of defence against catching the flu73.
Marion is a freelance health and wellness writer with a passion for all things digital health. She loves diving deep into the latest research and trends in the industry and distilling them down into fun, relatable pieces that people can relate to. Whether you're a health nut or a tech geek, she is always looking for new and interesting ways to help readers access quality and evidence-based information.