The common cold can leave you bedridden for several days with a headache, runny nose, and a sore throat. Most colds only last a week, but even after you recover, your nose and sinuses can remain stuffed up with phlegm. And that lingering congestion can feel like it goes on forever.
Otolaryngologists call this a postnasal drip. During a head cold, your body produces a ton of mucus to soothe your sinuses and clear out the infection. That mucus doesn’t disappear overnight. It takes time for your body’s immune response to wind down and sort of chip away at the build-up of phlegm.
So what causes all that cold congestion?
When a pathogen enters our airways, it latches to cells deep inside our noses and begins to multiply. As the virus does this, it irritates our nasal passages and sinuses, triggering inflammation.
This signals your immune system to create mucus to wash the virus out of your system. That mucus, which builds up and creates sinus pressure, also moistens our irritated nose and sinuses.
We actually always have some mucus draining down the back of our throat, but the mucus produced during a cold is much thicker and stickier. It also becomes yellow and green, which is a sign that our body is, in fact, fending off a virus.
Most people will recover from a cold within about seven days, but the congestion sometimes lingers even when the infection itself has cleared, and you might find yourself blowing your nose or clearing your throat for a week or two longer.
This is because your body produces a lot of extra mucus to flush the cold virus out of your system. It takes time for your body to clear out all that mucus, even after the virus itself is no longer in your system.
How much mucus your body produces is influenced by a mix of factors, including genetics, the type of virus, and the viral load you were exposed to. We’ve taken a look at the most common advice given online from doctors about speeding up cold recovering times, below is what we’ve found.
Drink plenty of fluids
Doctors say that drinking fluids will thin the mucus in your nasal and sinus passages and reduce some of that head pressure. The goal is to increase the fluid inside the mucous to thin it out and allow it to drain more easily. It also replaces any fluids that are lost while you’re sick.
So, what fluids do you drink? Things like Orange juice, chicken or beef broth, green tea, and lemon water with honey.
Get some R&R
Rest and relaxation is the key to helping your body bounce back quicker. It helps your body allocate more energy toward recovering and less energy toward other tasks or activities.
Taking a steam shower or using a humidifier can thin your mucus, reduce inflammation and open up your sinuses. If you have sinus pain or pressure. place a warm compress over your nose and eyes.
You may not have much of an appetite while you have a code, but if you can eat anything, try chicken noodle soup. Studies show that it has beneficial anti-inflammatory properties that could ease the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. Hot broths can help loosen mucus, and chicken soup may be the gold standard. It’ll help you feel less stuffy, and it’s easier to keep down.
Use nasal sprays
Nasal saline spray and nasal irrigation tools (such as the neti pot) can help clear out some of the phlegm, too. There are also a variety of over-the-counter decongestants and mucolytics that can help thin the mucus. Always be mindful of the length of time in which you used them, however. Also, taking over-the-counter decongestants for more than three days can actually worsen your symptoms.
If your post-nasal drip hasn’t improved within 10-12 days of your cold, see a doctor. Left untreated, postnasal drip can collect germs and turn into a sinus infection, so you’ll want to have it checked out.
The most important thing is to give your body what it needs as it recovers from fighting the infection. Keep yourself well hydrated, get plenty of sleep, and ensure good nutrition is key.
Try Peppermint (Menthol)
Peppermint and its main active ingredient, menthol, are natural decongestants and may even thin out the gunk in your chest. You’ll find them in many chest rubs and cough drops. You can also drink peppermint tea. Buy it from the store, or make your own: Steep 2 teaspoons of dried peppermint in a 1-2 cups of boiling water for 10 minutes. Drink a cup up to five times a day.