The common cold is an infection caused by one of thousands of related viruses, causing symptoms of sore throat, sneezing, headache, congestion, runny nose, and fatigue. These symptoms are self-limited, meaning that they will go away on their own in due time. The onset of symptoms of a common cold is often sudden and tends to resolve in 4 days to 2 weeks.
Warning: Severe sore throat can be caused by the bacteria streptococcus. “Strep throat,” as it is commonly called, can cause heart damage. Antibiotic treatment is necessary to prevent this complication.
Weak evidence suggests that homeopathic remedies might have a place in the treatment of colds. However, the best-designed studies (including one that evaluated classical homeopathy) failed to find evidence of benefit.
The homeopathic remedy Phytolacca was tested in two double-blind, placebo-controlled trials to evaluate its potential benefit for sore throat symptoms caused by colds.1,2 In these studies, involving a total of about 300 people, use of the remedy at a potency of D2 appeared to reduce the duration of symptoms. However, these studies suffer from several weaknesses in study design, making the results unreliable.
A small double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 60 adults and children found positive results with a homeopathic cough syrup as a treatment for a dry cough.3 The syrup contained Drosera, Arnica, Belladonna, Artemisia cina, Cossus cacti, Corallium rubrum, Cuprum Ferrosi phosphas, Uragoga ipecacuanha, and Solidago.
A study of 53 patients compared the homeopathic remedy Eupatorium perfoliatum D2 against aspirin as a treatment for the common cold and found them equally effective.4 Unfortunately, this was not a double-blind study; furthermore, aspirin itself has not been shown effective for the common cold.
A double-blind study compared aspirin against a combination homeopathic medicine that included Aconitum, Bryonia, Lachesis, Eupatorium, and Phosphorus.5 Again, the treatment proved to be as effective (or as ineffective) as aspirin, but in the absence of a placebo group the results are difficult to interpret.
A well designed, double-blind, placebo-controlled study enrolling 170 children with recurrent colds found no benefit with classical homeopathic treatment.4 All participants were evaluated by trained homeopathic practitioners and were prescribed remedies, but only about half of them actually received the remedy; the others received placebo treatment. The results failed to show any benefit with classical homeopathy versus placebo.
A double–blind, placebo-controlled study involving 994 children (ages 4 to 15 years old) evaluated treatment with Euphrasia 30c for the prevention of conjunctivitis (essentially, a cold in the eye).6 The investigators chose this remedy since it is frequently self-prescribed by people with conjunctivitis and often recommended by non-medical practitioners. However, no benefits were seen.
In a 12 week double-blind study, 251 children were given either placebo or one of three homeopathic remedies selected according to a standard Norwegian, simplified, constitutional , homeopathic protocol.7 The homeopathic remedies failed to prove more effective than placebo.
One trial, did show some benefit with a combination of six homeopathic ingredients. Aconitum, bryonia, eupatorium, gelsemium, ipecacuanha, and phosphorus are combined with other ingredients in a medication called Influcid. The remedy was used on 523 patients aged 1-65 years old in combination with regular cold remedies used on demand. At 4 days, about 15% of those using homeopathy had no fever and/or reported mild symptoms while about 7% of those with usual care reported the same. However, the trial was not blinded which means the participants and doctors administering care knew who was taking homeopathy. This may influence the reliability of feedback from participants.8
In classical homeopathy, there are many possible homeopathic treatments for the common cold, to be chosen based on various specific details of the person seeking treatment.
For example, if you are very restless and experience aches down to the bone in addition to other cold symptoms, you fit the symptom picture for Eupatorium. For this use, the remedy is generally recommended in a potency between 6c and 30c, which is a significantly more dilute dosage than the 2x potency used for some conditions.
If you have primarily a sore throat and swollen tonsils (relieved by cold drinks, but not hot drinks) accompanied by shooting pain in the ears, aching joints, muscle soreness, restlessness, and prostration, then you more closely fit the homeopathic indication for Phytolacca.
Several herbs and supplements have shown promise for treating or preventing colds. For more information, see the Colds and Flus article.
For a thorough explanation of homeopathy, including dilution of therapies, see the Homeopathy Overview.
1. Mossinger P. Die behandlung der pharyngitis mit Phytolacca [in German; English abstract]. Allg Homoopathische Zeitung. 1971;218:111–121.
2. Mossinger P. Untersuchung uber die behandlung der akuten pharyngitis mit Phytolacca D2 [in German; English abstract]. Allg Homoopathische Zeitung. 1977;221:177–183.
3. Bordes LR, Dorfman P. Evaluation of the cough suppressant activity of Drosetux cough syrup: a double blind versus placebo study [translated from French]. Cahiers d'O R L. 1986;21:731–734.
4. Gassinger CA, G Wunstel, Netter P. A contolled clinical trial for testing the efficacy of the homeopathic drug Eupatorium perfoliatum D2 in the treatment of common cold [in German; English abstract]. Arzeimittelforschung. 1981;31:732–736.
5. Maiwald VL, Weinfurtner T, Mau J, and Connert WD. Therapy of common cold with a homeopathic combination preparation in comparison with acetylsalicylic acid. A controlled, randomized double-blind study [in German; English abstract]. Arzneimittel-Forschung. 1988;38:578–582.
6. Mokkapatti R. An experimental double-blind study to evaluate the use of Euphrasia in preventing conjunctivitis. Br Homeopath J. 1992;81:22-24.
7. Steinsbekk A, Bentzen N, Fonnebo V, et al. Self treatment with one of three self selected, ultramolecular homeopathic medicines for the prevention of upper respiratory tract infections in children. A double-blind randomized placebo controlled trial. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2005;59:447-55.
8. Thinesse-Mallwitz M, Maydannik V, Keller T, Klement P. A homeopathic combination preparation in the treatment of feverish upper respiratory tract infections: an international randomized controlled trial. Forsch Komplementmed. 2015;22(3):163-170.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 7/20/2016
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