Natural Ways To Relieve Common Cold, flu or Catarrh

Is there a difference between common cold, flu and catarrh?

Yes. Common cold is a viral upper respiratory tract infection that mainly affects the nose and throat. Following an incubation period (period between infection and the appearance of symptoms of the disease) of between 1 and 3 days (although this can be as short as 10–12 hours), the patient develops a sore throat and sneezing, followed by profuse nasal discharge and congestion.

The viruses that cause common cold include rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, parainfluenza viruses and adenoviruses. 

Flu is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract that easily spreads to other people. It appears quickly within a few hours unlike the common cold that occurs gradually.

It affects more than just the nose and throat and makes one feel too unwell to carry on normal activities. Although the symptoms of flu are similar to that of the common cold, they are more severe.

The incubation period for flu is similar to that of the common cold, about 1 to 4 days (averagely 2 days). Flu is caused by the influenza viruses (types A, B, and C).

Catarrh describes an increased production of mucus in the nose, throat or sinuses. Usually, it is caused by the body’s immune system reacting to an infection or irritation. Catarrh can be triggered by a cold or other infections, hay fever or other types of allergic rhinitis and non-allergic rhinitis. 

Are they contagious?

Yes they are contagious. When flu, cold or an infectious catarrh causes you to sneeze or cough, you release droplets that are germ-filled into the air. The virus-filled particles can be spread up to 6 feet and if you are closer within this range, you become a target for contracting the infection. 

How is common cold or flu spread?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that common cold can be spread through the air, close contact with infected people and touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands after touching infected surfaces.

What causes the common cold, flu, or catarrh?

There are more than 100 causative viruses of common cold, of which rhinoviruses

(responsible for at least 50% of infections), adenoviruses and coronaviruses (10% of infections) are the most common.

The flu is caused by the influenza viruses (types A, B and C).

Catarrh can be caused by cold or other infections, allergic conditions such as rhinitis or rhinosinusitis and nasal polyps (painless soft growths inside your nose that are not usually serious, but can keep growing and block your nose if not treated).

Can they resolve on their own?

Yes. Most colds resolve in 1 week (usually 7 to 10 days), but up to 25% of people will have symptoms lasting 14 days or more. Some symptoms, such as a cough, may persist after the worst of the cold is over but coughing for 3 weeks is not unusual.

Flu symptoms may last up to 7-14 days but due to severity of symptoms, one might want to take in medications to improve condition.

Catarrh usually resolves on its own too but may persist for long in some instances (Chronic catarrh)

Do I need antibiotics for cold, flu, or catarrh?

Antibiotics are not recommended for colds, flu nor catarrh because they will not relieve your symptoms or speed up recovery. These conditions are caused by viruses and antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections.

Your Pharmacist may consider use of antibiotics if you are at risk, such as  having a  pre-existing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), compromised immunity, diabetes, heart or lung disease or if he suspects an underlying bacterial infection. In these situations, if there is no improvement within 48 h of starting antibiotics, then you should have a review by your Doctor.

If the symptoms of cold, flu or catarrh worsen if you are not at risk such as  a persistent or recurring fever, pleuritic type chest pain or breathlessness, then pneumonia might be developing. In this situation, review by a doctor or nurse would be essential and either treatment with antibiotics in the community or hospital admission could follow.

How does an inhaler help in catarrh?

Inhalers deliver medication either through your mouth or nostril. People who suffer from  nasal  congestion or a stuffy nose commonly use nasal inhalers. These inhalers can sometimes be harmful though little or no visible side effects have been reported from users.

Nasal inhalers mostly contain menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil which are thought to provide some degree of decongestion and cooling effect in the nasal passage in order to make breathing easy.

Some concerns raised with the use of nasal inhalers is that caution should be exercised especially when used in children to avoid incidences of overdose, poisoning, or other related health problems.

Some reports suggest that continuous use of nasal inhalers may be unhealthy and as such should not be used regularly.

What are some of the natural ways to get rid of a cold, flu, or catarrh?

Here are some home remedies to beat cold, flu and catarrh.

Steam Inhalation

Steam inhalation has long been advocated to aid relief of symptoms of the common cold and catarrh, with or without the addition of aromatic oils. It is cheap and does not carry any significant risks, apart from minor discomfort and irritation of the nose. Inhaling will help loosen congestion in the nostrils so that the mucus or phlegm can be flushed. This will help you breathe with ease. 

Inhalants for use on handkerchiefs, bedclothes and pillowcases are available. These usually contain aromatic ingredients such as eucalyptus or menthol. There has been a move away from recommending steam inhalations for children because of the risk of scalding, and aromatic inhalants should not be used in those 3 months or younger.


Garlic has antiseptic and antimicrobial properties that boost immunity and speed up your recovery. Some trials suggest that the use of garlic may prevent occurrences of these conditions.

Lots of fluids

Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration 


Saltwater gargles and rinsing the nose with saltwater are a common remedy for sore throat and the common cold. No trials appear to have been conducted on their effectiveness but may be employed to soothe the throat and nasal passages. It is not suitable for children 

When do I have to see a doctor if I have a cold, flu, or catarrh?

You would have to see a doctor if:

  • Your symptoms do not improve after three weeks
  • Your symptoms get worse suddenly
  • Your temperature gets high persistently and cough is productive (phlegm or mucus is produced)
  • Your child is very young and you are concerned about the child’s symptoms
  • You are old and frail
  • You develop heart or lung disease such as COPD or asthma, kidney disease, and diabetes 
  • Your immune system is compromised, such as for patients undergoing chemotherapy
  • You develop chest pain or difficulty in breathing
  • You are showing signs and symptoms of delirium

Which disease conditions have the common cold as a symptom?

Some disease conditions have symptoms similar to common cold. These include rhinitis, acute rhinosinusitis, acute otitis media, acute sore throat/ acute pharyngitis/ acute tonsillitis, acute cough/ acute bronchitis and  influenza


Rhinitis is simply inflammation of your nasal lining. It is characterized by rhinorrhoea (persistent runny nose), nasal congestion, sneezing, and itching.


Rhinosinusitis (also referred to as sinusitis) is an inflammation of one or more of your paranasal sinuses. Up to 2% of patients will develop acute rhinosinusitis as a complication of the common cold.

Following a cold, your sinus air spaces can become filled with nasal secretions, which stagnate because of a reduction in ciliary function (the movement of hair-like projections that help clear the nasal secretions) of the cells lining the sinuses. It is clinically defined by at least two of these symptoms:

• Blockage or congestion

• Discharge 

• Facial pain or pressure

• Reduction or loss of smell

Acute otitis media

Acute otitis media is commonly seen in children following a common cold and results from the virus spreading to the middle ear through the Eustachian tube, where an accumulation of pus in the middle ear or inflammation of the eardrum results.

Influenza or flu

Influenza or flu is also caused by certain types of viruses as discussed earlier. The onset of influenza is sudden; it is considered likely if:

  • Temperature is 38 ◦C or higher (37.5 ◦C in the elderly).
  • A minimum of one respiratory symptom – cough (usually non-productive), sore throat, nasal congestion or rhinorrhoea – is present.
  • A minimum of one of the physical symptoms –  headache, physical discomfort, myalgia (pain in muscles), sweats/chills, prostration – is present.

Sore throats

Sore throats are often associated with the common cold. Viral infection accounts for between 70% and 90% of all sore throat cases. The remaining cases are nearly all bacterial.

You may present with a sore throat as an isolated symptom or as part of a cluster of symptoms that include rhinorrhoea, cough, malaise (physical discomfort), fever, headache and hoarseness (laryngitis).

Symptoms are relatively short-lived, with 40% of people being symptom-free after 3 days and 85% of people symptom-free after 1 week.


Bischoff, W. E., Swett, K., Leng, I., Peters, T. R. (2013). Exposure to influenza virus aerosols during routine patient care. Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common Colds: Protect Yourselves Accessed: 1 April, 2021

Health (2021). Cold, Flu and Sinus [Accessed on 1 April, 2021]

Healthline (2019). [Accessed on 1 April, 2021]

Kennedy J. (2010). Self-care of acute sore throat. SelfCare, 2(1), 21–24.

Lissiman E., Bhasale,A. L.,&Cohen,M. (2014).Garlic for the common cold. Cochrane Database System Review, 11:CD006206.

Medical News Today (2021). How do I Treat A Cold?  [Accessed on 1 April, 2021]

MedLife (2021). Home Remedies for Cough and Cold. [Accessed on 1 April, 2021]

National Health Service (2018). Catarrh. [Accessed on 1 April, 2021]

National Health Service (2021). Common Cold. [Accessed on 1 April, 2021]

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guidance. (2017). Sinusitis (acute): Antimicrobial prescribing. Available from

Singh, M., Singh, M., Jaiswal, N., & Chauhan, A. (2017). Heated, humidified air for the common cold. Cochrane Database System Review, 8:CD001728

Spurling, G. K. P., Del Mar, C. B., Dooley, L., Foxlee, R., & Farley, R. (2017). Delayed antibiotic prescriptions for respiratory infections. Cochrane Database System Review, 9:CD004417

Times Now News (2021). How safe is it to use nasal inhalers for congestion? [Accessed on 2 April, 2021]


Dr. Ehoneah Obed is a registered pharmacist and a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana. He has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and has experience working in a Tertiary hospital as well as various community pharmacies. He is also a software engineer interested in healthcare technologies.

His love for helping others motivates him to create content on an array of topics mostly relating to the health of people and also software engineering content.

He is knowledgeable in digital marketing, content marketing, and a host of other skills that make him versatile enough to uplift any team he joins.

Chief Editor at

MPSGH, MRPharmS, MPhil.

Isaiah Amoo is a practicing community pharmacist in good standing with the Pharmacy Council of Ghana who has meaningful experience in academia and industrial pharmacy. He is a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, England, UK and currently pursuing his overseas pharmacy assessment programme (MSc) at Aston University, UK. He had his MPhil degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. He has about 5 years’ experience as a community Pharmacist and has also taught in academic institutions like KNUST, Kumasi Technical University, Royal Ann College of Health, and G-Health Consult. He likes to spend time reading medical research articles and loves sharing his knowledge with others.

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