Don’t look now, but we are in the middle of flu season. The dreaded symptoms like a stuffy nose, sore throat, body aches, and queasy stomach are most common during the fall and winter months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say influenza activity often increases in October and November, peaks between December and March and can last as late as May. So with flu season settling in for a stay, here are four natural remedies that can help fight the uncomfortable symptoms associated with colds and flu.

Gargle

Studies show that gargling with salt water can help prevent upper respiratory infections and decrease the severity of cold symptoms. “Gargling with salt water reduces and loosens mucus, which contains bacteria and allergens,” says Joann Jovinally of healthline.com. She says to dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a full glass of water, swish it around your mouth and throat, and then spit it out.

Feast on flu-fighting foods.

We should include fruits and vegetables in our daily diet anyway, but if your plate is a little light on the produce, now is the perfect time to change your eating habits. “Older adults are especially vulnerable to the dangers of influenza,” says Clay Gardner, executive director of Vista Knoll Specialized Care. “Along with promoting flu vaccines, we make sure our staff and residents have plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to build up a strong immune system and good health.”

Foods like carrots, onions, ginger, honey, garlic, blueberries, and cranberries can help lower fever, soothe aching joints, and prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder and intestinal walls and the urinary tract.

Steam

Health writer Heather Levin says the reason why the influenza virus spreads during colder months is that it loves dry environments. And our homes, with the heat running all the time, are dry during the winter. “This means that once it gets in, it’s easy for the virus to live longer on doorknobs and other surfaces,” says Levin. She says to keep your home as humid as possible during the winter months. And when you get sick, run a humidifier wherever you’re resting.

Ride it out

A moderate fever is your body’s defense against unwanted bacteria and virus. In otherwise healthy adults, a fever not exceeding 102 degrees can help fight off infection and help you recover faster. However, the staff at the Mayo Clinic warns if the fever is accompanied by a severe headache, stiff neck, shortness of breath, call the doctor.

Much like the crazy nephew who’s been camping in your driveway since Christmas, the flu is an unwelcome guest. But these natural remedies will rid you from uncomfortable and unwanted cold and flu symptoms. As for the nephew — you’re on your own.

Amy Osmond Cook is the Executive Director of the Association of Skilled Nursing Providers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about best practices in senior care. Contact her at amy@skillednursingproviders.org.

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