Avoiding Colds and Flu on Vacation

Although colds and flu are not uniquely travel-related hazards, they can be especially unpleasant during vacation. Dozens of remedies, both mainstream and complementary, are available. So what works, and what’s a waste of your money? Here, the experts from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), offer suggestions for the best ways to handle your ailment:


Taking zinc orally (often in the form of lozenges) may reduce the duration of a cold. But more isn’t better: Zinc, particularly in large doses, can have side effects including nausea and diarrhea. The NCCIH also cautions that the intranasal use of zinc can cause anosmia (loss of sense of smell), which may be long-lasting or permanent.

Nasal Irrigation and Neti Pots

Nasal saline irrigation, such as with neti pots, may be useful and safe for chronic sinusitis. It may also help relieve the symptoms of acute upper respiratory tract infections, but the evidence is not definitive, the NCCIH says. If you do decide to take your neti pot with you, be sure to use only sterile, distilled, boiled-then-cooled, or specially filtered water for nasal irrigation to avoid the risk of introducing waterborne pathogens. You need to have this kind of water even in places where the tap water is safe.

Vitamin C

Taking vitamin C supplements regularly reduces the risk of catching a cold, but the effect is seen primarily among people who perform intense physical exercise, not in the general population. Taking vitamin C on a regular basis, the NCCIH says, may lead to shorter colds. But taking it only after symptoms appear does not. Vitamin C supplements appear safe, even at high doses.


The quality of the evidence is very low that probiotics might reduce susceptibility to colds or other upper respiratory tract infections and the duration of the illnesses.


A 2014 systematic review concluded that echinacea has not been convincingly shown to be effective; however, the NICCH, says, a weak effect has not been ruled out. Additionally, there is no strong evidence that garlic, Chinese herbs, oil of oregano, or eucalyptus essential oil prevent or treat colds, or that the homeopathic product Oscillococcinum prevents or treats influenza or influenza-like illness.

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