Not sure what you can take to ease your sore throat, cough or flu symptoms without triggering an IC flare? Every few years we survey patients to find out what works best for them. This year, more than 100 patients shared their best cold and flu tips and strategies. In general, products containing honey were, by far, the popular favorite. Patients preferred to take a more natural approach than traditional medicine, including the use of sinus washes, humidifiers, essential oils, herbal teas and the like. That said, there are clear moments when traditional therapies and products are required particularly as patients may struggle with influenza (i.e. Tamiflu) and bacterial infection (i.e. antiobiotics). Here is a summary of the results. (A more extensive list and discussion will appear in our Winter 2019 IC Optimist magazine. Become A Member Today!)

Favorite Sore Throat Products

  • Honey Lozenges 41%
  • Ricola Lozenges 37%
  • Ludens 21%
  • Cloraseptic Spray or Lozenge 20%
  • Zinc 14%

Of course, honey products and lozenges (Pine Brothers, Zarbees) topped the list not only as bladder friendly but also calming and soothing to a tender, painful throat with 41% of patients preferring them. Ricola Lozenges came in a close second at 37%. Ludens and Cloraseptic Spray received 20%, Zinc 14%, Cepacol (8%) and Sucrets 4%. 

Other alternative products mentioned include: doTERRA On Guard Protecting Throat Drops, Boiron ThroatCalm, Pine Brothers Honey Throat Drops, Zarbees, Open Nature.

Favorite OTC Cough Products

In their comments, IC’ers mentioned honey frequently, including: herbal tea with honey, hot water with honey, pine brothers honey throat drops, Boiron Chestal Honey Congestion Syrup and, in desperate times, whiskey with honey. The use of cool mist humidifiers were popular as well as throat drops with menthol and guafenisen. Buckley’s Cough products, Mucinex, Adult Tussin and the old stand by, Vicks VapoRub were also popular.  

Flavor of Drops 

  • Honey 70%
  • Cherry 25%
  • Menthol 19%
  • Lemon 8%

Favorite DeCongestion Products

  • Mucinex 38%
  • Vicks Vaporub 36%
  • Sudafed 14%
  • Vicks Nyquil 6%

Multiple patients reported that saline nasal washes were essential to their recovery. The doTerra “Breathe Blend” product line received several positive mentions.  Olbas oil, Benadryl plus decongestant, Advil cold & sinus, tea tree oil, Tylenol cold/ sinus and Traditional Medicinals “Breathe Easy” herbal tea were mentioned briefly.

One IC patient reported that Sudafed caused her “massive flares” but that she does well more natural products like Vicks Vaporub. Another patient uses peppermint oil tabbed below her nostrils. She also steams water with “a couple of drops of oregano oil.” Another patient prefers a eucalyptus oil in a diffuser.

What do you turn to when you can’t stop coughing? 

And the winner is, again, all things honey combined with a healthy dab of Vicks Vaporub! In this question, we asked patients to share their tips and tricks for coughs that won’t stop. The list below is a summary of the responses that we received.

  • I do a breathing treatment, use Vicks Vaporub and see the doctor if necessary for prescription cough syrup.
  • hot water with honey
  • hot chamomile tea with honey
  • hot mint tea with honey
  • mucinex and peppermint hard candies
  • honey lemon in hot water
  • Delsym always stops my cough
  • Codeine cough syrup
  • Peppermint candy
  • Albuterol inhaler
  • Honey stick
  • Water and Halls Mentholyptus lozenges
  • Cloraseptic spray and lozenges
  • Strong tea laced with bourbon, honey and lemon juice
  • Buckley’s 
  • I drink tons of chicken broth, tea with honey and a little lemon. NO COFFEE
  • Celestial Seasonings Blueberry Tea
  • Vicks Vaporub
  • Robitussin 8 hour cough
  • Robitussin Maximum Strength
  • honey, lemon and frankincense
  • Ricola cough drops & honey in hot water
  • Boiron cough liquid with honey
  • Cinnamon whiskey
  • Benzonatate RX
  • Elderberry, ginger, honey, turmeric tea
  • Chicken broth with turmeric
  • Hot, hot shower, muscle relaxer and tea with honey
  • I rub Vicks on my chest and at bedtime on my feet!

What is your favorite cold and flu self-help strategy? Any secret weapons in your cold and flu arsenal?

(We received more than 90 responses to this question and offer ten or so here. The full list of suggestions will be in our magazine next month! )

  • Cool mist humidifier, extra pillows to keep head lifted for easing sinus pressure, homemade chicken soup, steam bath or shower or just putting face over a cup of herbal tea with honey. Sipping lots of fluids like tea with honey and broths and water. Menthol on chest and eucalyptus epsom salts in a hot bath and bath and bodyworks eucalyptus candles lit. Also essential mint oils dropped in water and breathing that in with a towel over my head if congestion is super bad.
  • Start zinc supplements as soon as symptoms appear. Shortens the length and intensity for me. 
  • homemade soup and herbal tea
  • echinacea
  • Zicam nasal swabs used from first sign of a cold nasal swabs and Oscillococinium
  • Alka seltzer cold and flu is by far the best
  • Nasal saline spray, warm, damp washcloth over eyes
  • Heating pad, Vick’s vaporub, hot spiced tea, rest and sleep when I can
  • As soon as I feel symptoms I start with Airborne tabs. These are high in Vitamin C and could be bladder irritating. I also start 3 times a day with a tea made of steeped ginger and spring onion (the white part only) slices sweetened with honey. When chest congestion starts, I take Mucinex expectorant (not cough suppressant) and have Halls, Cepacol, Luden’s cough drops on hand, drink lots of hot tea and water. I make sure to get a lot more rest and stay away from other people.
  • Vitamins C, D and oregano in water
  • Vick’s vaporub, peppermint tea, hot showers for congestion, essential oil bath, steamy showers humidifier with Vick’s pads/oil, hot water with decaf/herbal teas and honey, soups.

What do you use to prevent colds and flus

Washing hands, good hygiene and flu shots were the dominant answers in this category. Some patients also turn to Vitamin C supplements and/or products high in Vitamin C such as Airborne though this can clearly cause a bladder flare in some patients. Using a low acid Ester C is a potential workaround. Other patients try to eat vegetables and fruits high in vitamin C that are bladder friendly, such as leafy green vegetables.

If you’ve found yourself running the opposite direction when someone coughing enters your supermarket aisle, you are absolutely not alone. IC patients are very good at avoidance. One patient shared that she uses “Cart wipes at groceries, etc. Frequent hand washing. Staying away from children who are ill. Antibacterial wipes at the gym.” It is politically correct to say No to handshaking during cold and flu season as well!

Another IC patient focused more on stress and good nutrition. She said “I reduce sugars because that inevitably reduces my immunity. I try to rest and reduce stress especially over holidays when I can get worn down. Getting outdoors and in nature to exercise is essential. I drink lots of water. I wash my hands or using sanitizers religiously when out shopping. Sinus rinses as well.”

  • Elderberry syrup
  • Flu shot, wash hands, use hand sanitizers, don’t touch your face wit your hands.  Always wipe down handles of shopping carts. Stay out of crowded places when I can. 
  • Exercise, healthy diet, hand sanitizers, flu shot 
  • Zicam nasal swabs
  • Handwashing and prayers
  • Good hygiene, healthy foods and avoiding sick people and children
  • Eat plenty of vitamin-c rich IC friendly vegetables and fruits, lots of water 
  • Doterra On Guard essential oil and Triese capsules and breathe in the diffuser 
  • Umcka Cold Care
  • Zinc, selenium, vitamin D
  • Do not shake hands.
  • Stash ginger lemon tea with honey an den a comfy day nap
  • Wear a mask if in crowds or just stay out of crowds. Do shopping early in the morning since I’m retired. Order online. Stay away from grandchildren if ill.
  • Hydrate, wash hands a lot, sleep
  • Plenty of sleep, exercise and healthy food. I don’t think the scientific literature actually supports vitamin C or the other OTC things.
  • Ester C (1000 mg/day) 
  • Take extra d3, and some fish oil as soon as I feel off for several days. Elderberry, zinc, turmeric, Manuka honey 
  • Lysol house down, keep hands washed, Germ X  in reach at all times. 

What words of advice can you give to other IC patients who are struggling with the latest cold or flu?<

(We received more than 90 responses to this question and offer five here. The full list will be in our magazine next month! )

  • I had issues with most of the traditional methods for colds and flus and I used to catch them often. Now I really focus on keeping my immune system up with soil based probiotics or probiotic foods and drinking echinacea plus tea when I start to feel like I am catching something. That usually fights off whatever I am facing quickly and I do not get sick much anymore. If I do get sick though, I have only been able to handle the normal Throat Coat tea by Traditional Medicinal’s and any natural honey cough drop or halls menthol if I really have a horrible cough.
  • Wow, that’s a toughie because we’re all so different. I know the flu shot is controversial, but I get it every year, as I have lung disease, too. I also get the pneumonia shot. We have to find what medications work and don’t cause a flare. Avoid being around others who are ill and wear a mask when out and about. It’s so hard to completely avoid sickness, but try. I do take vitamins, but avoid vitamin C and other citrus, as it does cause flares for most of us. Just take care of your overall health as best you can. Drink as much water as possible and rest as much as possible. 
  • Rest and if you have to go to your primary Dr make sure he/she knows you’re a IC patient. Educate yourself in what OTC or prescriptions that doesn’t irritate the bladderTry a little at a time. But the best thing to do is go all natural. Use Herbals. 
  • Sleep, sleep, avoid stress, I have less flares when I am sick if I only eat a soft diet , mostly rich broth. I keep some frozen, make loaded with health is safe veggies, dark meat chicken and bones and organ meat, cook all night and drain. Just keep broth salt with sea salt. Freeze for when I am sick. I like gala applesauce too.
  • Rest take care of yourself first. Get someone to help you if you need it.Call in sick! People don’t want to catch your flu because you’re afraid to look weak calling in. Stay in bed until you’re ready to go back. Drink LOTS of fluids.

Have any cold/flu products give you a severe flare? If yes, please us what to avoid.

According to IC patients, their biggest flare triggers are products containing citrus, pseudoephedrine, pseudoephedrine (a decongestant), red dyes, alcohol, and Vitamin C. 

One patient, though, had a particularly harrowing experience. She wrote “I took Tamiflu for the flu last year and wound up with hemorrhagic cystitis. Don’t know if there was a clear cut connection but I would think twice about doing it again. My flu still lasted 2 weeks. The cystitis may well have been caused by my depleted immune system but who knows. I am now a believer in preventive flu shots!” Like any prescription medication, side effects are possible. Tamiflu’s most common side effects are confusion, tremors, sharking, unusual behavior, hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, headache and pain. That said, Tamiflu can reduce the length of infection and potentially save lives. A conversation with your doctor about the pros and cons is a must! 

  • For me, it’s anything with food coloring or cranberries. So far, the only cold/flu medication I can take is Theraflu but only the Lemon Honey flavor. NyQuil bothered me regardless of flavor. Ricola products are my go-to as well
  • All of them or anything with dyes, alcohols, acids  or flavors
  • I avoid all sugar products
  • Benadryl
  • Sudafed
  • Any cough drop with lemon
  • All Mucinex products
  • Anything with red dyes. I just use plenty of fluids. It’s hard having IC.
  • Cherry and lemon flavored products
  • Anything with Vitamin C
  • Decongestants With Sudafed
  • Cold-ease and any remedy with Vitamin C like Airborne
  • Chinese herbal remedies
  • DayQuil and Nyquil
  • Any cough medicine with alcohol (Robitussin or Prescribed)
  • Too much Advil
  • Cherry or lemon cough drops
  • Sucrets


Ironically, as I write this, I am dealing with my worst cold I’ve had in decades. It began as a “razor blade” like sore throat that kept me up the first night. I was up night two with severe congestion which lasted for about five days over Christmas. I was warned the this years cold was known for coming back a second time and it didn’t disappoint. Last week, this rhinovirus returned with yet more congestion and a deep, hacking cough. (No fever though!) Thus, assembling this list could not have come at a better time for me and my family and I hope, for you. 

My “go to’s” are usually Cloraspetic Sore Throat spray, lots of gargling with salt water, nasal washes with salt, Ricola and Luden’s Cherry cough drops. If found the new Open Nature Lozenges this year to be very good and not too sweet! They have two flavors: Honey Lemon and Cherry. I’ve also got my humidifier working in one room with my Hepa air filter here in my office where I’ve been huddling through the days.

I am a beast with Vicks Vaporub. I’ve always loved the smell and use it almost every night to help with allergies, etc. But during colds and flus, I put Vicks under my nose, chin and chest several times a day. I also LOVE LOVE LOVE the Vicks Vaporub Nasal Inhalers and the Olbas Nasal Inhalers, which have a more minty rather than menthol scent.

The hardest part of me, by far, has been reducing exposure for my 96 year old father and 90 year old mother. Despite my efforts, I can now hear him coughing as I write this. I’m doubling down this year with homemade chicken bone broth every day until we can get through this. Wish me luck my friends. I love my parents so much but at their age any cold can be overwhelming. I’m kinda freaked!

Jill Osborne, Founder
Interstitial Cystitis Network