Do hot showers help with a cold? Experts weigh

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There’s nothing better than taking a long shower when you feel like you’re getting sick. But do hot showers help with a cold in ways that go beyond the comforting feeling of standing under your spout? In short: yes. Hot water works wonders for sore muscles, congestion, and headaches. And according to Dr. Christina Burns, OMD, L.Ac, CPC, FABORM, Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Naturopath and Founder of Naturna, steam might even make you sweat in a way that helps relieve your symptoms.

But the benefits of taking a hot shower don’t end there. “It also moves and drains your mucus and lymph,” Burns told Bustle. On top of that, lingering in a high humidity environment can also help soothe your irritated respiratory system. Simply stand in the shower and breathe in the steam to feel the effects.

To try and feel better faster, you can augment your flushing session by incorporating a few cold-busting tools. Some essential oils, for example, are known to help relieve a headache or clear a stuffy nose, and they can be used in the shower. You can take a few immune-boosting vitamins, or even do it all by lounging in a real bath with Epsom salts — whatever the experts say might help relieve symptoms. While showering can’t cure a cold, you can definitely feel a little better by trying the tricks below.

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The experts

Dr. Christina Burns, OMD, L.Ac, CPC, FABORM, is a Doctor of Chinese Medicine who combines Eastern and Western sciences. She has 18 years of clinical experience and advanced certifications in acupuncture, herbs, nutrition and yoga therapy.

Maura Farragher, RGN, RM, Lic.Ac, Dip AC, (Cert) Nanjing, is a Transformational Complementary Therapist and Founder of Enigma Wellness. She started helping others when she became a Registered General Nurse and has been supporting people on their journey to better health for 30 years.

1. Use a eucalyptus shower spray

Throw one of these essential oil-infused tablets in the shower and it will instantly fill your bathroom with the scent of eucalyptus, which Burns says can open the nasal passages and help cleanse the respiratory system.

It’s all thanks to the antimicrobial and antiviral properties of eucalyptus, she explains, as well as its therapeutic scent. Relax under the hot water, breathe in the steam and you will hopefully feel a little less clogged.

Active ingredients: Eucalyptus, mint, sodium sulphate, sodium bicarbonate

2. Breathe in the menthol vapors

Another option? Place one of these tablets under your shower jet. They’re made with a proprietary blend of eucalyptus, menthol, and camphor — all ideal herbal treatments for the common cold, according to Farragher. “Menthol helps break down mucus and suppress coughs while eucalyptus has antiviral properties and will work with menthol to open the airways,” she told Bustle. If nothing else, the scent will help you relax and unwind, which is perfect when you’re not feeling well.

Active ingredients: Camphor, menthol, eucalyptus oil, nutmeg oil, cedar leaf oil

3. Take a vitamin C and zinc gummy

Studies have shown that you can boost your immune system — and maybe even prevent a cold — by increasing your vitamin C and zinc intake as soon as you start feeling sick. As Burns says, these particular supplements boost the immune system, are anti-inflammatory, and antiviral. Keep a bottle in your bathroom cabinet and put one in while you towel yourself.

Active ingredients: Zinc, Vitamin C, Organic Lemon Juice

4. Relax in an Epsom salt bath

An Epsom salt bath is a great choice if you experience body aches or a headache. In fact, the magnesium in Epsom salts has been shown to reduce inflammation in your body, Burns says, which can be nice if you get sick.

This type of bath is also very relaxing, adds Farragher. “[Epsom salt] breaks down into magnesium, which helps with a host of issues, including muscle aches and stress that often coincide with a cold,” she told Bustle.

Active ingredients: Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt), Lavadula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil

5. Soak in peppermint-infused bath salts

Better Bath Better Body Cold Season Epsom Salts contain a blend of essential oils, including natural rosemary, peppermint, eucalyptus and lemon oils, plus vitamin C, so you get the benefits of aromatherapy plus vitamins and congestion relief. Pour some into your tub, let it soak for a few minutes, then go to bed.

Active ingredients: Coconut Oil, Rosemary Essential Oil, Peppermint Essential Oil, Eucalyptus Essential Oil, Vitamin C Crystals, Epsom Salt

6. Use eucalyptus shower gel

Replace your regular cleanser with this Dr. Teal’s essential oil-enriched shower gel. As Farragher says, “I’m never afraid of lavender oil, which is a great stress reliever that will help anyone with a cold get some much-needed rest.” This body wash also contains Epsom salts and eucalyptus, as well as spearmint, to help you feel more refreshed.

Active ingredients: Aloe Vera, Shea Butter, Vitamin E, Epsom Salt, Spearmint Essential Oil, Lavender Essential Oil, Eucalyptus Essential Oil

7. Treat yourself to a Gua Sha facial massage

Using a gua sha facial tool can be really nice when you start to get sick, Burns says, especially if you’re feeling flushed. When you massage it into your skin, the stone works to melt away tension, which can sometimes cause headaches. To try it yourself, apply a light oil to your skin then gently glide the stone over your face.

Specifications: natural amethyst stone

8. Spray eucalyptus mist

Keep this aromatherapy mist handy to spray in your shower. Remember, eucalyptus oil is known to help relieve nasal congestion, says Farragher, so spray a few drops in your bathroom if you start to feel sick, then keep it handy for daily use to transform your shower into a spa.

Active ingredients: Eucalyptus essential oil

9. Brush yourself with steam

Once you get out of the shower, brush your chest with a steam rub before getting into bed. This one from Maty’s contains essential oils of eucalyptus, peppermint, and pine to help support your immune system and relieve troublesome congestion. Hopefully this will deflate your nose just enough so you can get some quality sleep.

Active ingredients: Eucalyptus essential oil, peppermint essential oil, pine essential oil, tea tree essential oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, castor oil, sunflower wax

Referenced studies:

Online Acs, K. (2016). Essential oils and their vapors as potential antibacterial agents against respiratory tract pathogens. Nat Prod Common. Nov;11(11):1709-1712. PMID: 30475513.

Banerjee, S. (2017). Magnesium as an Alternative or Supplement to Opioids for Migraine and Chronic Pain: A Review of Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines [Internet]. Ottawa (ON): Canadian Health Technology Agency; PMID: 29334449.

Small, P. (2016). Effectiveness of steam inhalation and nasal irrigation for chronic or recurrent sinus symptoms in primary care: a pragmatic randomized controlled trial. CMAJ. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5026511/

Periera, E. (2013). The effect of inhaled menthol on upper airway resistance in humans: a randomized controlled crossover study. Can Breathe J. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3628651/

Rondenelli, M. (2018). Taking care of yourself in the event of a cold: the essential role of vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc and Echinacea in three main interacting immune clusters (physical barriers, innate and adaptive immunity) involved during a cold episode – practical advice on dosages and when to take these nutrients/herbs in order to prevent or treat colds. Evid Based Complement Alternate Med. doi: 10.1155/2018/5813095. PMID: 29853961; PMCID: PMC5949172.

Sayorwan, W. (2013). Effects of inhaled rosemary oil on subjective feelings and activities of the nervous system. SciPharm. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3700080/

Yadav, N. (2017). Suppression of inflammatory and infectious responses in lung macrophages by eucalyptus oil and its constituent 1,8-cineole: role of pattern recognition receptors TREM-1 and NLRP3, MAP kinase regulator MKP-1 and NFκB . PLoS One. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5687727/

Experts:

Dr. Christina Burns, OMD, L.Ac, CPC, FABORM, Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Naturopathy and Founder of Naturna

Maura Farragher, RGN, RM, Lic.Ac, Dip AC, (Cert) Nanjing, Transformational Complementary Therapist and Founder of Enigma Wellness

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