Natural Remedies for Upper Respiratory Infections

| Modified on Jun 28, 2024
Upper Respiratory Infection Remedies

Upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses, and quite commonly by a rhinovirus. Upper respiratory infections can also have a bacterial or fungal cause. Upper respiratory infections (URI’s) affect the upper parts of the respiratory system. Natural remedies for upper respiratory infections include apple cider vinegar, vitamin C, rest and keeping warm.

While "upper respiratory infection" or "rhinovirus" may sound like serious diagnoses, they are just more technical terms for the common cold. Severity of upper respiratory infections can range from mild, with uncomfortable symptoms to severe with more debilitating symptoms, including malaise, fever and pain in the ears, throat or sinuses.Those who have immune deficiencies, chronic lung disease, the elderly or young children are more at risk for complications from upper respiratory infections.

The sooner treatment begins, the better. Some remedies, like Zinc, are more effective if treatment is begun within 24 hours. However, do not fret if you are just getting around to looking for a natural remedy for your upper respiratory infection and have let it go on for days or even a week or more. Natural remedies can still reduce the misery and duration of upper respiratory infections.

Causes of Upper Respiratory Infections

The rhinovirus, a common cause of upper respiratory infections, is so called because of its affinity to the nasal cavity. “Rhino” is the Greek word for nose. It has been found that at least some rhinoviruses replicate easily between 33-35 degrees Celsius.2 Core body temperature on the other hand is 37 degrees Celsius, on average.

Grandmothers knew it all along. Going outside in the winter without adequate outerwear will put you at risk for getting sick. (Did you ever hear, “You’ll catch your death of cold!”) If you have a cold virus and your core body temperature goes down, that virus that readily replicates at 33-35 degrees Celsius may have a foothold in your lungs.1

Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infections

The upper respiratory tract includes your nose, throat, ears, and sinuses. When these areas become infected, the body responds with inflammation to fight the infection. The Greek suffix “itis” means inflammation. Many conditions associated with an upper respiratory infection are inflammatory in nature – tonsillitis, sinusitis, otitis media, laryngitis. Inflammation has its role in bringing healing, but the swelling it brings also causes pain and discomfort.

Natural remedies help your body to fight the infection so your body won’t need to respond with so much inflammation.

Your body will also produces mucous and fluids to help remove infection from your body. Again, this is a response of a healthy immune system that brings discomfort. Using natural remedies to fight infection and strengthen your immune system will reduce the necessity of the excess mucous and fluids that are making you miserable.

Additionally, your body generates extra “heat” to kill germs. If you happen to have an otoscope (tool to look in your ears) when you have an ear infection, you will find redness. Extra blood and heat are there to fight infection. Sore throats are commonly red from the extra blood flow. Fever is also a heat that your body produces to fight infection. The white blood cells that are part of your blood’s infection fighting mechanism reproduce more quickly when you have a fever. Miserable as it can be, a mild fever is actually helping you. (High or prolonged fevers can bring risks like dehydration, though.)

Five Steps to Conquer Your Upper Respiratory Infection

1. Keep Warm

Resist the urge to treat low grade fevers. And if your body isn’t producing extra heat, be sure to keep warm. Turn up the heat a bit, take a warm bath, use an extra blanket at bedtime. Wear socks and even a stocking cap around the house.

2. Boost your Immune System

Vitamin C

Your body uses extra vitamin C when you are sick, if it is availabe. Taking a vitamin C supplement several times a day can really make a difference. Sodium ascorbate is usually well tolerated by the body and can be taken by the gram frequently throughout the day. If you get loose stools, your body has enough and you can cut back your dose a little.


Zinc3 has been found helpful in shortening the duration of upper respiratory infections. Zinc supplements should be taken with meals according to manufacturer's directions.

Elderberry Syrup

Elderberries are great for your immune system. You can often find elderberry syrup in larger grocery stores and pharmacies.

3. Kill the Germs


Salt has been used for thousands of years to kill germs. A salt water gargle (1/4 teaspoon salt in 1/4 cup warm water) and Neti pot with a salt water solution (1/2 teaspoon salt in 1 cup water) will kill germs where they like to replicate, right in the throat and sinus cavities. Use your gargle and Neti pot at least twice a day.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is another very inexpensive but wonderfully effective remedy to kill germs. You can gargle it, use it in a Neti pot and put it into your ears to kill germs.

Start with 3% hydrogen peroxide from the drug store, in a brown bottle. Dilute it with water (1/2 3% hydrogen peroxide and ½ water) and gargle it. Use a capful in each ear several times a day. Add 1/2 teaspoon to 6 ounces of warm water and rinse your sinuses once or twice a day with a Neti pot.

4. Rest

If you have significant symptoms do curl up in bed with that extra blanket and watch a movie or read a book. Your body needs its resources to heal.  Don’t use them up working overtime or going to the gym when you have an upper respiratory infection.

5. Nourish Your Body

Give your body tools to heal and strengthen your immune system with a good diet. Vegetable soup, chicken broth, citrus fruits and berries are some of the very best things you can eat for your URI. These foods will not overly tax your digestive system (diverting energy from your immune system) but will provide essential vitamins, minerals and fluids to maximize your healing.

Avoid heavy meals, dairy products and sugar (except for a moderate amount of honey) when you are suffering with an URI.

Below is a recipe for a tonic for upper respiratory infections. It includes a number of remedies that are commonly used singularly for a variety of illnesses, including URI’s. Honey has antibacterial properties, is soothing to the throat and tastes delicious. Apple cider vinegar alkalizes the body and vinegar fights germs. Garlic kills viruses, bacteria and fungi. It also strengthens the immune system. Cayenne pepper kills germs and is “thermogenic” (it helps your body to produce heat.)

Recipe for URI Tonic

  • 6 ounces hot water
  • 2 t. honey
  • 2 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Ideally you will take this tonic 2-3 times a day. It is also great for days when you “feel like you are coming down with something.”

Certainly each of these remedies could be used by itself if you prefer.

Do you have a natural remedy for an upper respiratory infection? We would love to hear from you!

Additional pages of Interest:


Preventing Colds



Apple Cider Vinegar

1 User Review
5 star (1) 

Posted by Rhonda (San Antonio ) on 07/01/2017

I noticed my Presley wasn't himself and was doing a weird hiccup breathing thing. He was breathing through his mouth! I luckily found this website and started right away with some treatment of ACV. I mixed 1/4 tsp of ACV w/water and with syringe fed him that 2x a day and also I did a steam bath 1:1. Enclosed his cat crate with a towel and put the sauce pan outside of his door and he sat breathing in for approximately 15 minutes. After his first treatment he literally began sneezing and got up to drink water and eat some food! I did this for 3 days and he's back to his old self!

Bosnian Tonic

2 User Reviews
5 star (2) 

Posted by Rob (Kentucky) on 11/09/2019

“Sher-be” – Bosnia Home Remedy – Lard/Milk/Sugar of Cold and Flu:

My friend “Ljubica” from Bosnia-Herzegovina who came the USA back in 1990's as a war refugee showed me this remedy. She said it's called “Sher-be”, it's old Bosnian name.

I got hit with the worst upper respirtory infection I ever had. Head was completely stopped up with thick mucus, sinus membranes swollen shut I could not breath thru my nose. Ear canals clogged and coughing with thick mucus… etc. She came over to my house and cooked this cocktail up on my stove for me to drink.


2 teaspoon white sugar
1 cup (8oz) milk (I use whole milk red cap)
1 teaspoon pork lard from leftover bacon grease or butter (real not margarine)


You melt sugar in a saucepan til it states to carmalize, then add milk (she also said you can also add a little whisky too). Stir til completely mixed and pour into a large coffee mug. Add pig lard or butter to mug and stir til melted. Drink hot. The taste is unpleasant, making this hard to swallow. You'll get thru it. I added ½ a package of swiss coco mix to improve the taste to help get it down.

I had a head cold at the time and after drinks this mixture, within 15 minutes I started coughing and sneezing with globs of mucus moving out of my lungs, throat and sinus which were congested before. My head was lighter and not as much pressure. She told me to make it again in the morning and drink it again.

I woke up in the morning which was 12 hours after my first cocktail and this is how I feel. Pressure in my head is down by 50% I can breath thru my nose. Still stuffy but I can get air thru which is a big plus. I coughed up globs of thick mucus in my sleep which I spit into a tissue. Over all I feel 60% better.

It is now 24 hours since I first started drinking this Bosnian cocktail, my 3rd drink and I must say I'm about 90% better.

There is no logic reason why this cocktail should work… Really… Bacon grease…? Can anyone please explain to me WHY this cocktail works?

Replied by Debbie
(United States)

You're right, it's amazing that your recipe worked for you, because it's definitely not healthy for you in the long run. Avoid sugar, it's poison really, feeds cancer cells. If you must have sugar occasionally, look for organic cane sugar. For healing purposes, I would try the recipe in this article instead!

Replied by Juanita
(Indianapolis, IN)


Oh my goodness! This does work (and I don't think it tastes bad)! I had a sinus infection last week, which has mostly gone away, but junk seems to have moved to my throat (not just back of my mouth... deeper), sometimes making it impossible to talk, and painful to try to cough it out.

I just drank this, using stored bacon grease I keep in the fridge (all the bits settle to the bottom, and top layer is just fat). I did add a tbsp of whiskey. I immediately felt the need to clear my throat, and it is much looser! I return to work tomorrow after my usual days off, and have been worried about not being able to talk. First thing this morning, all I could do was whisper, but as I keep clearing my throat, my voice is already coming back! Rob, if you see this, please thank Ljubica for me!


Crazy isn't it! And I still don't understand why it works....

Burned Whiskey

1 User Review
5 star (1) 

Posted by Oolagirl (Chicago) on 01/23/2017

Burned Whiskey for Upper Respiratory infections

This is an amazing expectorant, and by the time it's finished, there is no alcohol in it. My Grandma always gave this to her kids, and my mom, who is a nurse, used it on us. The relief is instant.

Using a glass pie plate, put in 1/4 cup of sugar, and a shot of whiskey. Light it, and stir with a wooden spoon until the fire goes out. Keep trying to re-light it, once it no longer catches a flame, all of the alcohol is gone and you are left with a brown syrup. Add a tablespoon of the syrup to 4 oz of warm water, and it is ready.

It is a wonderful expectorant, and we have used it in my family for generations. My kids' pediatrician wrote down the recipe a few years ago, and uses it on his own family.

Replied by Natasha
(Kenosha, Wi)

How often is this to be used and in what amounts?

Replied by Colleen

As needed. There is no alcohol in it as long as you burn it until the fire goes out. Twice a day is good!


1 User Review
5 star (1) 

Posted by Mama To Many (Tennessee) on 09/06/2016

I woke up with congestion in my head; the beginnings of an upper respiratory infection. I really hate the feeling of not being able to breathe through my nose. I immediately got out the neti pot. I put in 6 ounces of boiled cooled water, 1 capful of hydrogen peroxide, and 1/2 t. sea salt. I love that remedy for my sinuses and it always works well. But lo and behold, my sinuses were blocked so much the water would not go through them.

I got a q-tip and put water on it. I dipped it into some cayenne pepper and put that in my nostril. It brought about an immediate sneeze. Then many sneezes. And voila! My sinuses were open. I was able to use the neti pot. I was able to blow my nose. (And blow and blow - but always gently lest you get your ears stopped up.)

It DID STING! My kids were pretty horrified. I had considered eating a hot pepper since we have plenty from the garden (one of the only things I actually grew this year.) But I didn't think a hot pepper would sit well in my empty stomach, or go well with my morning oatmeal when I got around to fixing it.

Using the neti pot likely drove some cayenne into my sinus cavities but that didn't bother me. Just the nose interior. But it wasn't unbearable and didn't last terribly long. And it was totally worth it.

Hours later I can still breathe through my nose.

I love cayenne pepper. It is amazing.

~Mama to Many~

Grapefruit Seed Extract

2 User Reviews
5 star (1) 
4 star (1) 

Posted by Laura1887 (Columbia, Md) on 03/28/2017

I have a question - has anybody had success using GSE for respiratory infections? I have had a chronic antibiotic-resistant respiratory infection for 9 months and seen many doctors. It recently started to badly effect my nasal and sinus passages following a cold (which has since gone but left residual effects - I guess because of the respiratory infection that was already present). I just picked up a nasal spray with GSE yesterday and noticed some improvement quickly, so I started reading up on it. Today I just bought some GSE liquid and am going to follow suggestions to take it orally in OJ in hopes that it will help my respiratory infection as well. I have seen a pulmonologist (with no luck), and am seeing an allergist next week - but in the meantime am miserable (plus hoping not to have to start taking another rx medicine). I am hoping this will work, but again, just curious if anyone out there has any experience using GSE for respiratory infections...? Thanks for any assistance! :-)

Replied by Nicky
(East Sussex, Uk)

Hi Laura. I had a chesty cough and sinus infection for weeks. I took Grapefruit seed extract capsules 570mg 1x twice a day and N-acetyl cysteine 600mg 1x twice a day. Also 1x tsp coconut oil 3x a day, and 2x tsps Apple Cider Vinegar in water 3x a day. I was pretty breathless most of the time so I also took B12 because I had read it could help. Also extra vit C and more water. I started to feel better the first day and within 5 days, really good. I made sure I didn't have sugar either, and had plenty of veg.

I hope this will help.

Replied by KT

Hi Laura,

What kinds of things do you eat? It sounds to me like what you are eating could be contributing to your problem.

The first thing that came to my mind is for you to get 1,000 mg. vitamin C tabs and take one four times a day. See if that relieves sinus pressure and congestion. There is controversy over when it should be taken so you will have to experiment to see what you can tolerate.

Too many of us look for quick fixes and/or cures instead of painstakingly looking for prevention or eliminating the cause. I am also guilty of this..

I hope some others here can make helpful suggestions for you.


Hydrogen Peroxide

1 User Review
5 star (1) 

Posted by Beth (Palmyra, Nj) on 03/31/2016

Caught a cold which for me always leads to laryngitis (several times each year). Tried the hydrogen peroxide gargle (1/2 peroxide, half water) along with straight peroxide in ears about 10 mins. each. Also dripped 50/50 water peroxide into nostrils and inhaled strongly. (Slight burning sensation) Did this during the night when discomfort from upper respiratory infection kept me up. Couldn't believe how much better I felt in morning - 75% better. Repeated in the morning and again after work and at night. BTW, first time I was able to stop laryngitis! Will continue until all symptoms disappear completely, but this is by far the best results I have ever had for multiple cold symptoms!


3 User Reviews
5 star (3) 

Posted by Cindy (Illinois, USA) on 06/28/2024 488 posts

Sinus, Phelgm, Mucous, And Upper Respiratory Issues After The Bug

I'll submit this in a different way because I can't imagine that anyone here having an issue with onions or Barbara O'Neill.

The thing is, a LOT of people are having upper respiratory and sinus issues after the bug and need some better help than chemicals and toxins. And who doesn't have onions in the pantry?

If you have upper respiratory issues, have had the bug or just want to ward off colds and flu, HYDRATE and do any or all of the following:

Chop a bunch of onion and let the tears flow.

Put a good amount of chopped onion in a jar or a glass or ceramic bowl and pour honey over it. Cover and let that set for a day. Next day, strain, discard the onion and bottle the syrup that has developed. Use as you would any upper resp/cough syrup. It will keep for nobody knows how long. Some fraidy cats say a month, some have used the same bottle of syrup, as needed, for years so pull up your grownup panties, take a couple spoons of the syrup and put the rest in a jar or glass bottle in the fridge. If you get scared later, toss it and make some fresh. And don't let your chopped onion sit around uncovered, soaking up germs, while you're doing any of these onion things if you're sick.

Put some chopped onion on plates and set them around the house, out of the reach of kids and pets so they don't put the onion with its germ load in their mouths.

Put some Vaseline on the bottom of your feet, some chopped onion in a clean sock, put the sock on so the onion is on the bottom of your foot, put a bread or grocery bag or some sort of plastic over it and another sock over everything to keep it in place, grab a box of tissues and a plate of chopped onion, put the plate on the night stand next to the bed and go to be, take a nap or otherwise relax for a while. If THAT frightens you, put on a thin pair of socks, put the chopped onion in the bag, the bag over those socks with the onion at the bottom of the foot and the second pair of socks over the whole shebang.

Put the rest of the raw chopped onion on plates and set them around the house, someplace kids and pets can't get at it, before you lay down.

If you like raw onion, munch some with a little sea salt while you're chopping. When all is said and done, do NOT eat the onion you've used or that has been setting around in the open soaking up the "germs" from its surroundings if you or anyone are or have been sick.

When it comes to health, fear is poison SO, put on your superhero cape and giddyup. And it wouldn't hurt to do some of these onion things once a month. Skip the sock thing if you're not infected but pretend you're fending off vampires or werewolves or something malevolent, buy or dig up a bunch of onions and give the house a good onion fumigation once in a while. Couldn't hurt!

Posted by Russ (Tennessee) on 03/17/2017

When I was a child and got sick with a cold or flu, my mother would slice and fry an onion and put it in an old sock and tie it around my neck. The cough and congestion would clear up within 24 hours.

Posted by Paula (Tulsa, Oklahoma) on 01/06/2013

I came down suddenly with an upper respiratory type of infection. My lungs felt like they were full of fluid and I couldn't seem to get a whole breath of air without coughing hard and wheezing loud. By day 3 my urine had turned dark and cloudy and I decided it must be time to seek medical help. It was Sunday so I came to this Earth Clinic site to find relief for a day till I could go see a regular doctor on a week day. I saw a post on cutting the ends off an onion and placing it near were I was resting. All I wanted to do was sleep for the last few days. I woke up after two hours and felt so much better and my urine was bright but still a little cloudy. I fell back to sleep and awoke in 5 more hours to have zero couging, no more dripping nose, no wheezing and my urine clear. I did have wet hair from sweating but I feel wonderful and completly good now. I want to post this right away because an onion doesn't cost much and its really scary when you can't breath right. I would never have believed this could have helped if I had not seen it for myself.

Replied by Jane
(Seattle, Wa)

I remember reading and sending to all my children, a story on a website last year of a family who had cut onions in each room and thus they avoided the flu pandemic of 1918. This post adds a great reason for actually using the onion when one is ill!