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Doctor's review: Which home remedies for cold and flu season should you trust?

Posted at 7:56 PM, Jan 19, 2023

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — As the number of cold, RSV and flu cases rise and the availability of over-the-counter medicines to fight them thins, people are turning to home remedies.

The demand for children's fever and pain reliever products has increased by 65% from last year according to The Consumer Healthcare Products. LEX 18 viewers responded to let us know they’re still struggling to find Tylenol and Motrin.

Dr. Elizabeth Hawse with Commonwealth Pediatrics helped us figure out what home remedies work and which ones are all hype.

Hawse says this time of year, home remedies are the most popular question at her office.

"My kid has a cold and what should I give them or what should I do," said Hawse.

Contrary to popular belief, she says their answer is usually not to come into the doctor's office.

There are some remedies that parents can try at home.

"Actually, pediatricians get so many phone calls... there's actually a textbook of pediatric phone medicine and that is actually evidence-based," explained Hawse.


"There've been a lot of studies about this — about cough medications in children and really what those studies show is that honey actually works better than the over-the-counter medications and as a bonus, it's actually a lot cheaper as well," said Hawse.

Hawse says honey has antimicrobial properties and in adults and kids older than 1, it's harmless.

"I would not spend my money on this. I would put that in my kid's college fund and just buy honey," she said.


Several viral social media posts have gone around claiming onions either soaked in water or placed in socks overnight could help you get better. The idea is that the onions will absorb bacteria and viruses. Hawse says science has not proven that one.

"Now, will somebody come out with a well-done study in two years that shows, yes, there's some compound in the onion, maybe. But, not that we know of at this point," Hawse said.

"I don't think it's gonna do any harm, so it's one of those things — interventions where they're sort of harmless. They may take your time but it's not gonna hurt anybody in any way and it's fun to try... why not."

When we asked LEX 18 viewers on Facebook, the most popular response was some form of herbal tea.

"I always thought hot tea was good for the throat, so anytime I get tea I'm like, 'this will make me feel healthier,'" said LEX 18 Weather Forecaster Bayne Froney.

Dr. Hawse says not every herb is safe for children and you don't want to find out the hard way.

"We don't know the dosing for kids, most of those are made really for adults," said Hawse.

The same goes for supplements like vitamin C and elderberry.

"It's much more difficult and more expensive to get the FDA to approve a drug than it is to approve a supplement. So, with supplements, you don't have to prove purity, you don't have to make sure that the dose it says on the box is actually the dose that you're taking," said Hawse.


"If anything, it's the vitamin C. Oranges are healthy so I'm not going to argue against giving your child an orange," said Hawse.


“It really is the scent that sort of helps you feel like it's opening your nasal passages or soothing a cough. It may be placebo but it's not gonna hurt anything," said Hawse.


Dr. Hawse says that remedy is likely only effective in your mind.

"It probably just makes you feel like you're doing something. That's what people's grandmas did. It's a little bourbon, it's Kentucky," said Hawse.

Hawse says there is a time and place to call a doctor.

"If they're not looking better toward the end of the week, then we probably need to see them in the office and listen to their chest, look into their ears, make sure there’s not a secondary thing going on," encouraged Hawse.