Last updated on 12 April 2021
If you are feeling under the weather, you don’t often have to look further than your kitchen or bathroom to find a natural remedy. For a sore throat, cough, stomach ache or headache, some simple home remedies may help to provide much-needed relief.
However, if you are concerned about prolonged symptoms or your pain is severe, it could be time to seek treatment from a doctor.
Here are simple tips to relieve symptoms of common illnesses, and how to know when you should see a doctor. (Please note that these remedies are recommended for adults and not children.)
A sore throat is the feeling of pain and dryness in the throat. Most sore throats are caused by infections or by environmental factors like dry air.
Sore throats are often uncomfortable, giving a feeling of a ‘scratchy throat’ or ‘swollen throat’ that make you want to cough to clear the throat irritation. However, it is usually harmless and goes away on its own.
Causes of a sore throat
Sore throat causes can be attributed to a variety of factors. Common causes include:
- Viruses, such as those that cause the common cold, influenza, measles, chickenpox and mumps
- Bacterial infections, including group A Streptococcus bacteria also known as strep throat
- Allergies to environmental factors, such as pollen, grass and pet dander
- Chemicals and irritants in the environment, such as cigarette and tobacco smoke, cleaning products, air pollutants and other chemicals
Symptoms of a sore throat
Sore throat symptoms can vary based on their causes. These include:
- Scratchy and burning sensations
- Dry and tender throat
- Increased pain when swallowing or talking
- Throat or tonsils appearing red
How to treat a sore throat or cough
A scratchy throat or persistent cough can cause a fair amount of discomfort. Both also happen to be symptoms of the common cold.
Home remedies for a sore throat
It is important to remain hydrated when you are under the weather by drinking plenty of water. Staying hydrated can help ease congestion, thin mucus secretions and keep the throat moist.
Did you know that gargling warm salt water may also help to reduce some of the swelling? Add half a teaspoon of salt to a full glass (240ml) and gargle up to 3 times a day.
Drink warm liquids that are soothing to the throat, such as hot tea with honey, hot soups, warm water with lemon or herbal teas.
Apple cider vinegar
Mix 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with 240ml of water. The acid in the vinegar can kill bacteria in the throat and soothe a sore throat.
Peppermint essential oil
Make some peppermint tea, add some peppermint oil to a diffuser or rub some on the chest to soothe a sore throat and ease a dry cough.
Eating frozen foods such as popsicles, sorbets or ice cream can help ease the pain of a sore throat. Choose non-dairy items as dairy products can produce more mucous and further irritate the throat.
Home remedies for a cough
For a bad cough, try eating a slice of pineapple or drinking 100ml of fresh pineapple juice 3 times a day. The fruit contains an enzyme called bromelain, which is thought to help suppress coughs and loosen mucus in your throat.
Mix 2 teaspoons of honey with herbal tea or warm water and lemon. This soothes your throat and helps relieve coughs.
Make thyme tea using 2 teaspoons of crushed thyme leaves and 1 cup of boiling water. Cover the cup, steep for 10 minutes and strain. The essence extracted from thyme leaves helps relieve coughing as well as short term bronchitis.
Probiotics are good bacteria that indirectly help to relieve a cough by boosting your immune system. A variety of probiotics are available, including those sold as supplements and those in fermented foods, such as yogurt, miso, kimchi, tempeh and sourdough.
For a bad cough, try eating a slice of pineapple or drinking 100ml of fresh pineapple juice 3 times a day. The fruit contains an enzyme called bromelain, which is thought to help suppress coughs and loosen mucus in your throat. Who knew?
When to see a doctor?
A sore throat or cough is usually a symptom of a mild condition, such as the common cold or hay fever. However, it can occasionally signify a more serious lung condition, such as pneumonia or asthma.
If your sore throat or cough persists for more than a week, or it is accompanied by a fever or swollen tonsils, consult a doctor.
A stomach ache refers to cramps or a dull pain in the tummy (abdomen) that is usually temporary and is often not serious.
Causes of a stomach ache
Common causes of pain in the abdominal area include:
- Gas in the stomach
- Diarrhoea or food poisoning
Symptoms of a stomach ache
Symptoms of a stomach ache vary according to the cause of the pain. They may include:
- Feeling bloated and increased flatulence due to trapped gas
- Feeling full and bloated after eating, heartburn and nausea due to indigestion
- Difficulty in passing stools
- Watery stools, nausea and vomiting
- Pain in the lower right-hand side of the stomach due to appendicitis
- Severe pain in the centre of your tummy due to gallstones
How to cure a stomach ache
Stomach aches are extremely common and usually not a cause for concern. Possible triggers include indigestion, acid reflux and stomach infections.
Home remedies for stomach ache
Many individuals swear by eating ginger biscuits, taking ginger supplements or sipping ginger tea when they feel queasy.
The digestive benefit of ginger is no myth – a natural anti-inflammatory, ginger has been shown by many studies to be effective in relieving certain types of stomach ills.
A cup of chamomile tea may also help to relax tense stomach muscles and soothe cramps.
Mint has been used as a traditional treatment for indigestion, gas and diarrhoea in countries such as Iran, Pakistan and India. Traditionally, it is boiled with cardamom to make tea. The menthol in mint may help with preventing vomiting and diarrhoea, reducing muscle spasms in the intestines and relieving pain.
The BRAT diet may help people with diarrhoea. It stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. These foods can help bind foods together to make stools firmer. They are also rich in nutrients such as potassium and magnesium and can replace those lost through diarrhoea and vomiting.
Cinnamon contains several antioxidants that may help ease digestion and reduce the risk of irritation and damage to the digestive tract. Adding 1 teaspoon of good-quality cinnamon powder to your meals or mixing it with boiling water to make a tea may help relieve indigestion. You may do this 2 – 3 times daily.
Figs contain substances that can act as laxatives to ease constipation and indigestion. Eating whole figs a few times a day or brewing 1 or 2 teaspoons of fig leaves to make tea may help with constipation symptoms.
When to see a doctor?
A stomach ache is usually not serious, and symptoms should pass quickly. Prolonged stomach pain is more unusual and could be a sign of a larger problem, such as irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, a gynaecological disorder or stomach ulcer.
If your pain or discomfort lasts for more than 2 weeks, consult a doctor.
Headache can refer to pain in the head that feels like throbbing or squeezing sensations and may be constant or intermittent. The pain may be felt in one part of the face or skull or may be generalised involving the whole head.
Headaches may arise spontaneously or may be associated with activity or exercise. It is often associated with nausea and vomiting, especially with migraine headaches. Common types of headaches are tension, migraine and cluster headaches.
Causes of headaches
- Inflammation or irritation of structures that surround the brain
- Infection or dehydration
- Changes in circulation and blood flow
- Medication reactions, drug abuse and drug withdrawal
- Certain foods
Symptoms of headaches
- Tension headaches appear as pain that begins in the back of the head and upper neck, often described as a band-like tightness or pressure. It is not associated with nausea and vomiting.
- Migraine headaches manifest as throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head. They can be intense enough to prevent you from completing simple tasks. Migraine attacks can cause vision problems, oversensitivity to light and nausea.
- Cluster headaches occur periodically with pain-free periods of months or years in between. The pain is usually excruciating and located around or behind one eye. This type of headache affects men more often.
How to treat headaches or migraines
Headaches occur in the forehead, temples and back of the head, causing painful pressure or aching. Migraines are typically more intense and severe, and can cause pain behind one of your eyes or ears, sensitivity to light or sound, and nausea.
Home remedies for headaches or migraines
Rest and hydration
Getting enough rest and staying hydrated is one of the first steps to treating a headache. Most patients with migraine headaches get much relief after resting in a dark room and falling asleep.
Sooth pain with a cold compress
Wrap an ice pack in a cloth and apply it to the neck or head area. This helps decrease inflammation, slows nerve conduction, and constricts blood vessels, all of which contribute to relieving the headache.
A gentle massage may also help to relieve some of the tension in your temples or neck. Maintain pressure for 7 – 15 seconds, then repeat.
If you have a migraine, inhaling lavender essential oil for 15 minutes may help to ease the pain. Apply it to the temples or breathe directly over the bottle.
Magnesium deficiency has been found to be common in people who get frequent migraine headaches. Taking oral magnesium citrate supplements may help in reducing both the frequency and severity of migraine headaches.
Coffee or tea
Beverages containing caffeine, such as coffee or tea, may provide headache relief. Caffeine improves mood, increases alertness and constricts blood vessels. These actions help relieve headache symptoms.
When to see a doctor?
Generally, a headache is not an indicator of a severe medical disorder. However, you should consult a doctor if you experience sudden, severe pain, or if your headache is accompanied by:
- Weakness, dizziness or loss of balance
- Difficulty speaking
- Blurry vision
- Fever, shortness of breath, a stiff neck or rash
- Nausea or vomiting
It is also advisable to consult a doctor if you experience more than 3 headaches a week, or severe headaches that regularly interfere with your family or work life.
Article reviewed by Dr Othello Dave, deputy medical director at Parkway Hospitals
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