How to Fight Respiratory Symptoms

Are you having respiratory symptoms that might be related to a virus, bacteria, or other pathogen? It’s not surprising—there are so many ways you can get exposed. If you are trying to avoid coming down with something, here are some practical tips. If you’ve already been exposed but aren’t yet having symptoms, here are some ideas that may help you fight off any invaders.  If you already have symptoms, there are plenty of things you can do to relieve your symptoms and help you get back on track, so read on!

If you are having trouble breathing, seek help immediately. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or immunocompromised, talk to your healthcare provider about these suggestions to help decide if they are for you.

Simple, Common Sense Suggestions

  • Listen to your body.
    • If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. We often think we need to eat to “keep up our strength.” But think of it this way—your body needs all its strength to fight off the current infection. If it has to use energy to digest food, it’s not using that energy to fight disease.
    • If you feel hungry, eat. But stick to light, easily digestible foods. Try broths or softly cooked veggies. Keep your body focused on the top priority—eliminating invaders.
  • Drink lots of fluids. Pretty standard advice, but definitely a good idea. Focus on good quality water (distilled or reverse osmosis) and use herbal teas that help relieve symptoms.
  • Eliminate sugar and mucus-producing foods. Sugar suppresses the immune system, and dairy products, wheat, and eggs cause the body to produce more mucus—something you really don’t need when you already can’t breathe.
  • Start resting immediately. Don’t wait until you drop. When you wait too long to start resting, you let the illness take hold and last longer. Take it easy as soon as you feel symptoms.
  • Consider using steam or a sauna. Put your face over some hot water while you’re under a towel for a steaming if you don’t have access to a sauna. The jury is still out on whether heat kills some types of viruses and bacteria, but it definitely won’t hurt. It feels good, can help relieve congestion, and might help you relax!
  • Don’t give up too soon. Continue working on your symptoms for at least 2 or 3 days after they go away. Remember that your immune system is still working hard to clear out the infection. Don’t overwhelm it by getting back into your routine too soon—you may end up with a relapse.

Vitamins and Minerals

  • Vitamin C: An oldie, but definitely a goodie, vitamin C has been shown to help with viral and bacterial infections, especially those involving the lungs. Adults can take 500 mg every 2 hours along with a small amount of food for a short period of time, but these high doses may cause diarrhea, so monitor yourself and cut back if you need to.
  • Zinc: Zinc has been shown to reduce the longevity of an upper respiratory virus, but not necessarily reduce the severity of symptoms. It seems to work better in adults than in children. Adults can take 75 to 100 mg once daily; children should stick to 25 to 50 mg once daily. Make sure to take zinc with a little bit of food.
  • Silver: Used historically to combat infections, silver can be taken internally or used in a humidifier. Look for silver sol rather than colloidal silver to reduce the chances of “blue man syndrome.”


  • Mullein: Mullein has been used to treat coughs, pneumonia, and many other respiratory issues. It can help clear mucus and reduce inflammation.
  • Lobelia: Another herb that has been used historically, lobelia can help to clear mucus, relax your airways, and stimulate breathing. It hasn’t been studied extensively in humans, but it has a long history of traditional use.
  • Peppermint: Menthol, the active compound in peppermint, acts as a decongestant. Make a cup of hot tea and breathe in the steam to clear out nasal passages, too!
  • Thyme: Look in your spice cupboard for some thyme to brew into tea. It has a long history of use for bronchitis, cough, and sore throat.
  • Oregano: Another common herb that’s easy to find, oregano contains carvacrol and rosmarinic acid. These compounds are both natural decongestants and antihistamines.

Here’s a quick recipe for some symptom-busting herbal tea:

  • Grate a piece of fresh ginger (about 2 inches long)
  • Add the grated ginger to 3 cups of water
  • Simmer for 10 minutes; remove from heat
  • Add the juice of 2 lemons, 1 tablespoon of honey, and pinch of cayenne
  • Add a sprinkle of any or all of the above herbs (mullein, lobelia, peppermint, thyme, oregano)
  • Sip while steaming
  • Experiment to find a combination you like that relieves your symptoms


If you prefer a homeopathic approach, here are some of the homeopathics most commonly used with respiratory issues:

  • Pulsatilla nigrans: Often used with a dry cough that wakes one up at night.
  • Euphrasia officinalis: Used for a dry cough that’s worse during the day.
  • Arsenicum album: Most often used with difficulty breathing, where one is wheezing and must sit up to breathe.

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