Maybe you're so stuffed up you can barely breathe. Or you have a cough that keeps you (and the rest of the household) up all night. Or your aches and fever guarantee this is the flu, not a cold, keeping you huddled miserably under the covers. Whatever your wretched symptoms, likely you can find relief in your medicine cabinet — or maybe elsewhere in your home.

Make sure to read the label. There's no reason to attack with a barrage of multi-symptom heavy artillery when you can treat the symptoms you have. Plus, that way you won't risk over-medicating yourself.

Here's a look at what to take for each of the season's symptoms.

Stuffy nose

When your nose is stuffed, trying to breathe takes all your energy. But you also dread going to bed because you know you won't be able to sleep. And you can't smell or taste anything you eat. That's when it may be time to try some decongestants. You can choose between decongestant pills and decongestant sprays. Sprays work faster, saysWebMD, but you shouldn't use them for more than three days. That's when you can get a rebound effect and your congestion can get worse. Pills work too, but ask your doctor before taking them if you have high blood pressure or heart disease. Oral decongestants may raise your blood pressure.

If you want a more natural way to combat your clogged nose, try saline nasal spray. It can help relieve congestion without side effects. Staying hydrated — especially by sipping warm beverages — also helps loosen congestion, reportsthe Mayo Clinic. Steam from a warm shower or a humidifier also can ease stuffiness.


woman sitting up in bed coughingAn irritating cough can keep you up all night. (Photo:

A cough is your body's way of trying to clear out all the irritants that are keeping you from breathing. And boy, does your body take this job seriously. The hacking that comes with a cold can often seem to linger forever. Over-the-counter cough medicine with dextromethorphan and/or guaifenesin may help calm a cough. But you may also get the same relief from natural cough remedies. Try sucking on cough lozenges or hard candy, sipping warm tea with honey, taking a hot shower or using a humidifier, and even trying licorice.

Runny nose and sneezing

When you have allergies, your body makes chemicals called histamines and they create symptoms like itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing. Most experts say histamines aren't responsible for similar symptoms when you have a cold, saysWebMD, but antihistamine drugs can still sometimes provide relief. Antihistamines can make you drowsy and can really dry out your nose, mouth and eyes. Worst case: Stock up on lotion-added tissues.

Body aches

Feeling like you've been hit by a truck is one of the flu's signature symptoms. You can combat body aches with over-the-counter pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another option, but keep in mind that too much can cause liver damage, so always stick with the recommended dosage or less. If you're taking combination products that fight many symptoms, make sure you're not doubling up on the acetaminophen. Aspirin is another option, but shouldn't be given to children under 18 due to the increased risk of a dangerous (but rare) disease called Reye's syndrome, says WebMD.

Sore throat

woman's hands holding cup of hot tea with lemonHot tea may help ease the pain of a sore throat. (Photo:

The same pain relievers you take for body aches may also help with a sore throat. You may also want to try sore throat home remedies like hot tea with honey, using a humidifier, or gargling with salt water. Sucking on sugar-free medicated drops or using medicated throat sprays may also help. If your sore throat lasts for more than a few days or is incredibly painful, it's a good idea to see your doctor. He orshe can rule out a bacterial infection or strep throat.


Rest and fluids are the best treatment for a fever. But if you're really uncomfortable, you can take a pain reliever. Call your doctor if your fever doesn't drop after taking medicine, stays around 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, or lasts longer than three days, suggests the Mayo Clinic.

Of course, prevention is the best medicine. Wash your hands a lot, keep them away from your nose and mouth, and stay away from germy people. And don't forget to get a flu shot every year. And just in case, make sure to keep your medicine cabinet well stocked.

Mary Jo DiLonardo Mary Jo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.