How to recover from viruses faster

Siski Green / 26 October 2016

It's difficult to avoid viruses, so find out exactly what to do if you get a cold or flu to recover as quickly as possible.



You got the jabs, you wash your hands often, you even avoid getting too close to your darling grandchildren, all in the name of trying to avoid the season’s viruses – and yet here you are with a cold or worse, flu. Now those germs are flourishing inside you you’re desperate to make the experience as quick and painless as possible. So here’s what to do:

Is it a cold or flu?

If it’s flu it probably came on more suddenly and with fevers and chills as well as the usual sneezing, runny nose, sore throat and coughing that comes with a cold. You’re also more likely to have headaches, muscle aches and fatigue.

If you do suspect flu and you are suffering with severe symptoms, your doctor may be able to prescribe you oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) which is sometimes recommended in at-risk groups such as those over 65 years of age. That will help prevent the virus from multiplying in the body, shortening your recovery period. 

Why you need the flu vaccine

Drink more liquid

It’s essential to dramatically up your intake of liquids when you’re ill – your mucous is 80% water, and the more fluid it is, the more easily your body can get it out of your body in the form of snot or phlegm. If you’re having trouble coughing phlegm up and out of your lungs, for example, it could be because the mucous isn’t thin enough – drinking water can help. 

Drink tea

Any hot drink is better than a cold one, but tea is especially beneficial because it contains theophylline, which naturally helps dilate your bronchioles in your lungs, allowing you to breathe more easily. 

Tea vs coffee – which one is better for your health?

Add honey

With its antibacterial properties, honey is an ideal sweetener for your tea - and it also soothes your sore throat too. 

The health benefits of honey

Stick to soup

There are multiple reasons to eat soup rather than any other food while you’re sick – firstly, it’s a great way to get even more liquid inside you; secondly, it’s warm which helps keep you warm and your body fight the virus; thirdly, if it’s chicken soup, it will contain cysteine - an amino acid that’s released from chicken during cooking, and helps block inflammation, thereby reducing symptoms. 

Try this recipe for chicken soup

Take medications

The key to a quick recovery is allowing your body to go through the healing process while reducing discomfort as far as possible. So there’s no point fighting the thumping headache without medication – take ibuprofen or aspirin – so that then you can rest and sleep properly, giving your body the strength it needs to beat the virus. 

Know your painkillers

Don’t block your body’s process

There are some cold and flu medications that try to prevent your body from producing cold or flu symptoms – but some symptoms are a result of your body’s attempts to get rid of the virus.

So, for example, pseudoephedrine will help decongest your nose, allowing you to breathe more easily but because it constricts your blood vessels your body is less able to fight the virus and produce mucous.

Similarly if you have phlegm in your chest and you take a cough suppressant, your body may find it more difficult to expel the phlegm.

However, if your stuffed nose or coughing is making it impossible for you to rest, you may need these meds in order to recover more quickly.

If you’re unsure, see your GP, so he or she can advise you according to your symptoms. 

Cough cures - what really works

Steam it out

Warm moist air can do wonders for bringing out phlegm and thinning mucous. Invest in an Easy Breathing Steam Inhaler from Boots (£6.29), which allows you to inhale steam easily and effectively directly through your nose and mouth, or use a bowl and a towel, taking care not to scald yourself. Adding a drop or two of eucalyptus oil will help clear your nasal passages too, allowing you to breathe more easily. 

How to treat your cold

Rest properly

You might not feel bad enough to sit in bed all day, but if you want to get better quicker, resting properly is the way to do it. That means turning off the TV, getting really warm under the covers, and sleeping or lying with your eyes closed as much as possible.

Even though you might feel able to do a spot of gardening or cleaning, you’re using up vital energy resources that your body could be using to fight the virus.

Remember there's light at the end of the tunnel…

It takes your body between three and ten days to rid itself of a virus, so try not to be impatient.

Give your body the time it needs to recover properly. Getting out and about too early may put you at increased risk of another virus or may prolong your recovery time. So, put your feet up now and you’ll be back on your feet far sooner!

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.