What Can You Do for a Respiratory Virus? (square)

What Can You Do for a Respiratory Virus?

What Can You Do for a Respiratory Virus? (for Facebook)

Flu and coronavirus have been in the news a lot lately.  There are a number of other respiratory viruses going around right now, too, like RSV.  The good news is, you don’t need to know what virus you have in order to support the body through it, because non-medical approaches are the same for the same symptoms, regardless of what’s causing them.

Necessary disclaimer: This is not intended to replace medical advice.  It assumes that if you need medical attention, you’re getting it.  Young babies with fevers should always be seen, to ensure that that it really is “just a virus” causing the fever, and not something like delayed Group B Strep.

Keep the Fever

Perhaps the #1 most important thing you can do is let the fever (assuming there is one) run its course.  We’ve been trained to medicate a fever away.  If we’ve started dipping a toe into more traditional approaches, we might try to eliminate it by more natural means — but still be trying to make it go away.  In general, that’s a bad idea.

The body uses the fever to fight the infection, and if you take away its tools, it has a harder time fighting.  Definitely not what we want.  So unless there’s a pre-existing medical condition that makes a fever inherently problematic (like a seizure disorder) or the temperature is approaching dangerous levels, leave it be and just keep the sick person as comfortable as you can.  And by the way, “dangerous” isn’t as low as you probably think.  If it’s under 107° (F), it isn’t brain-damage high.  (I wouldn’t recommend waiting ’til 106.9 to address it, but you can probably let it run higher than you currently think you can.)

Manage the Fever

If the fever is getting too high for you to be comfortable leaving it alone, using non-invasive methods to lower it, without eliminating it, is ideal.  Our favorite is what I call “stinky socks” (the silly name helps make it more palatable for kids).  You simply saturate cotton socks in apple cider vinegar and put them on the sick person’s feet.  Make sure the wet socks are then covered up — either by a thicker pair of dry, wool socks or just well-covered by a blanket — so the person won’t get chilled.

(You can read more about fever here.)

Natural Decongestant

Another favorite of ours is our homemade decongestant, made from a recipe that came from a friend.  Containing onion, garlic, radishes, honey, and lemon juice, it’s entirely food-based, so it’s safe for almost every member of the family.  (Infants are an exception, because of the honey, but my toddlers have all loved it.)  That’s especially nice when you come down with a cold or flu while pregnant, and it seems like everything is off-limits!

This helps break up congestion in the chest, in particular, but can be helpful in the head, as well.  And some of these ingredients are overall antiviral, etc. too, so just generally good for boosting the body during an infection.

(If you’re buying over-the-counter decongestant, guaifenesin is the ingredient you want.  We haven’t used it at our house, though, since discovering the homemade decongestant.)

Percussive Therapy

Another way to break up chest congestion is through percussion.  This is pretty much what it sounds like — you “drum,” tap, etc. on the chest or back.  (Or use something that vibrates, like a massager.)  This should be safe for all ages, but, as I would hope common sense would dictate, you need to tap more gently on a small baby than you do on a fully-grown man.  You want to thump on the person to shake the congestion that’s in the airways; you don’t want to bruise him!

Nutritional Support

Vitamin supplements are the primary go-to in our house when someone is sick.  They help make sure the body is well-nourished enough (at least in certain key nutrients) to do the job it’s already designed to do.

Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that’s critical during illness.12  In fact, many alternative and integrative practitioners will recommend high-dose vitamin C therapy as the primary approach for addressing respiratory illnesses like pertussis (which is bacterial, not a virus) or flu.  It’s the first thing we supplement.  The most common recommendation is to take it in ascorbic acid or sodium ascorbate forms, but I have a pretty low tolerance for it and can’t take much that way, so I prefer liposomal.

Vitamin A is rapidly depleted during viral infections, particularly measles.  Supplementation helps replace what is being depleted.

Vitamin D deficiency may potentially be linked to influenza, so a bit of extra vitamin D (use D3, not D2) can also be wise.

Both vitamin A and vitamin D are fat-soluble vitamins and it isn’t wise to supplement them in large quantities on a routine basis.  But during illness, when a nutrient is being used up at a higher-than-normal rate, giving it at a higher-than-normal rate makes sense, so you can replace what is being lost.

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In a study, elderberry was shown to reduce the duration of flu symptoms by four days3 — which is three days better than Tamiflu.  Elderberry has a long history as an immune-boosting herb.  It comes in a variety of forms, so you should find something that works for virtually every member of the family.  Just make sure that anything you use for little ones is safe for little ones (no honey-based syrups for the baby, for instance).


Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic medicine used for the treatment of influenza.  Available studies don’t show any particular benefit of taking oscillococcinum — the Cochrane team determined that, based on limited evidence, it might reduce the duration of symptoms for a fraction of a day.4  However, there’s virtually no risk of harm from taking it, either,5, so if you want to add it to your repertoire, it shouldn’t hurt anything.

What Can You Do for a Respiratory Virus? (pinnable)

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409678/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1562195/pdf/canmedaj00527-0084.pdf
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15080016
  4. https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001957.pub3/abstract
  5. https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001957.pub6/abstract