If you’re sick of succumbing to upper respiratory infections and tired of fearing the flu, you’re not alone. On the cold front, adults usually suffer from two or three colds every year—and kids can cycle through as many as eight colds annually. That tallies to more than 750 million colds each year.
The flu typically infects on average 35 million Americans every year, with anywhere from 280,000 to 810,000 ending up in the hospital. And that’s just colds and flu—there are several other upper respiratory infections that can knock you down.
Even a mild upper respiratory infection can make you feel miserable. From a stuffy head to a sore throat to a constant cough, upper respiratory infections can keep you sidelined for days. And because they’re so easy to transmit, a single upper respiratory infection can travel through your whole family, leaving everyone sick and cranky.
Luckily, you can sidestep or minimize the effects of an upper respiratory infection by harnessing the power of six herbs that promote a flawless immune response and support easy breathing.
Is It Really an Upper Respiratory Infection?
When you’re struck by a runny nose, congestion, sore throat, or persistent cough, you might guess you have a cold—and you’d probably be right. But since those symptoms can also be caused by allergies, it can be hard to tell the difference. Unlike allergies though, upper respiratory infections usually come with fatigue and headaches, and may also trigger low-grade fevers and overall body aches.
The six most common upper respiratory infections include:
- Common cold
- Strep throat
And while cold and flu season tends to coincide with fall and winter, upper respiratory infections can strike and circulate at any time.
By the Numbers
These respiratory infections strike millions of Americans every year:
Flu 35 million
Sinusitis 29.8 million
Sore throat 11 million
Strep throat 0.5 million
Acute bronchitis 16 million
What Causes Upper Respiratory Infections?
Most upper respiratory infections are caused by highly contagious viruses that attack your upper respiratory system, which includes your nose, throat, and larynx. Viral upper respiratory infections spread quickly and make you feel horrible, but normally clear in about 10 to 14 days.
Upper respiratory infections can also be brought on by infectious bacteria like Streptococcus pyogenes, which causes strep throat. Although these infections can be successfully treated with antibiotics, a growing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria make this type of upper respiratory infection increasingly harder to cure.
No matter if your infection is due to a virus or bacteria, it’s important to take quick action to treat it. Left to its own devices, an infection can make its way down to your lungs, where it can create a more serious problem.
When Your Infection Heads South
An upper respiratory infection can turn into a much bigger threat if it migrates to your lower respiratory system and enters your lungs. While the flu is the biggest culprit, any upper respiratory infection can morph into a more severe issue such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
These deeper infections occur when the virus or bacteria causing an upper respiratory infection enters your bronchial tubes, which is the gateway to your lungs. The germs then cause irritation and inflammation in your lungs. That can lead to blocked airways, severely restricted breathing, and reduced oxygen in the blood.
Your best defense against these dangerous lung infections: Treating upper respiratory infections immediately with powerful herbs that also protect the lungs and promote full, deep breathing.
Breathe Easy, Naturally!
When you want effective relief from a respiratory infection—or want to avoid getting sick in the first place—you can rely on these six effective botanicals. Each delivers a unique set of anti-infection actions to keep your head and chest clear and comfortable. And like most herbs, they work even better when combined.
Ayurvedic practitioners have relied on andrographis for thousands of years to help their patients recover from a wide variety of upper respiratory infections. Thanks to key compounds called andrographolides, this powerful plant helps treat upper respiratory infections and relieves symptoms in just days.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial published in the journal Phytomedicine found that andrographis relieved upper respiratory symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, and fatigue within just three days. By day five, the participants who took andrographis enjoyed significant relief from all of their symptoms, including headaches, coughing, and phlegm production.
A meta-analysis in the journal PLOS ONE found that andrographis effectively relieved symptoms of respiratory tract infections in both adults and children. In the 33 randomized clinical trials reviewed, the researchers found that andrographis improved sore throats, cough intensity and severity, and overall upper respiratory symptoms significantly better than a placebo. Andrographis also successfully shortened the duration of symptoms and the number of days needed for sick leave.
To take advantage of the full infection-fighting abilities this herb provides, look for a high-quality, standardized andrographis supplement that provides at least 80 mg of andrographolides per serving.
Respiratory relief may not be your go-to when you think about boswellia, but this herb’s well established anti-inflammatory properties can help keep air moving through your lungs. Both upper and lower respiratory infections involve inflammation. Because boswellia reduces swelling in the lungs and sinus cavities, it helps open up tight airways and relieves pain and pressure.
Boswellia inhibits a specific enzyme called 5-LOX—something most other anti-inflammatories can’t do. Since lung inflammation often involves 5-LOX activity, boswellia is uniquely qualified to offer fast and lasting relief. Most of that anti-inflammatory action comes from a specific boswellic acid known as AKBA. To get the most out of this ancient herb, look for boswellia that’s standardized to contain at least 10 percent AKBA.
While it’s not as well known as other herbal remedies, ravintsara plays a key role in managing and preventing upper respiratory infections thanks to its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Research shows that ravintsara can disrupt infectious bacteria by interfering with their special form of communication called quorum sensing. That may help prevent or limit infections and speed recovery times. Ravintsara offers specific protection against Streptococcus pyogenes.
Myrtle leaves contain a potent essential oil with proven antibacterial, antiviral, antiseptic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. This traditional medicinal herb provides dozens of natural compounds including alpha-pinene, cineole, and limonene that help the immune system deal with respiratory infections.
Myrtle’s targeted actions involve breaking up mucus so it’s easier to clear from the lungs. Animal studies show that myrtle effectively prevents and treats lung inflammation and scarring, both of which can occur in severe lung infections. In one large clinical trial published in Drug Research, bronchitis patients who took a myrtle-based remedy got better more quickly and completely than placebo. The group taking myrtle saw a 62 percent decrease in coughing fits within one week of treatment. Other research suggests that myrtle has the same level of effectiveness for people suffering from upper respiratory infections.
When it comes to defeating upper respiratory infections, thyme makes the perfect partner. This familiar herb delivers powerful antiviral properties, including proven effectiveness against the viruses that cause the common cold and flu. Thyme also has strong antibacterial activity, allowing it to fight off drug-resistant bacteria and pathogens that can settle in the lungs. This herb contains several powerful compounds including thymol and carvacrol, which have been studied intensively for their ability to quickly conquer upper respiratory infections and their symptoms.
Studies show that thyme can help:
- Reduce chest congestion
- Decrease coughing fits
- Make coughs more productive
- Relieve sore throat
- Decrease airway inflammation
And like many plant remedies, thyme works especially well in combination with other herbs.
Tame Children’s Coughs
When it comes to safely stopping coughs in adults and children—even children as young as two years old—a combination of thyme and ivy gets the job done. During one clinical trial, German researchers found that a liquid thyme and ivy extract effectively cleared bronchitis in children within 10 days. The study, which included 1,234 children, also reported significant improvement in the number of coughing fits and other symptoms in less than five days.
While you may not want ivy taking over your yard, you’ll definitely want it on your side to prevent and treat respiratory infections. Ivy works particularly well for taming coughs, thinning mucus, opening up airways, and fighting the germs that cause respiratory infections.
A recent clinical trial published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that ivy leaf extract successfully improved breathing and reduced the frequency of coughing fits in adults and children with viral bronchitis. Other studies have consistently shown that ivy helps improve sleep quality, congestion, and cough-related symptoms in people suffering from respiratory infections.