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Nasal spray, a thermos, and a cup of tea in an image for a Meltwater blog about top cold/flu recommendations online.

Consumers' Most Recommended Cold and Flu Remedies

Ann-Derrick Gaillot and Elena Tarasova

Sep 15, 2023

Where do you go for quick, initial healthcare advice? For many consumers, the internet is the first stop for learning more about illness symptoms and how to treat them. So when cold and flu season comes around, it’s no wonder that internet users look to one another for advice on relieving common symptoms like runny nose, congestion, and coughing. But which cold and flu remedy has been recommended most?

We used our social listening and analytics platform to learn more about what remedies consumers are sharing online. The following insights were drawn from English-language queries looking at relevant keyword mentions across blogs, forums, and 12 different social media networks from September 1, 2022, through August 31, 2023.

Read our healthcare industry consumer intelligence report for a data-rich analysis of current consumer trends and preferences.

The overall common cold/flu remedy conversation

During the period we analyzed, there were 45,600 mentions of cold and flu remedies, an increase of about 440% compared to the previous 12 months.

A line graph showing cold and flu remedy keyword mentions over time, from September 1, 2022 through August 31, 2023.

As this chart of mentions over time shows, the cold and flu remedy conversation rose slightly from mid-September through January, corresponding with the Northern Hemisphere’s cold and flu season. The conversation saw its highest spike on April 13, 2023, the day a Reddit user shared a video clip from a 1959 BBC report on home flu remedies. That post in the r/OldSchoolCool subreddit, went on to reach 17.7 million people. 

The second-highest spike occurred on October 3, 2022, when another Reddit post titled “Just a little suggestion before flu season really takes off” reached 4.73 million people. (That post has since been deleted.)

A word cloud of the overall common cold and flu remedy conversation revealed three of the most talked about home remedies: 

  • Chicken soup
  • Honey and lemon
  • Garlic
A keyword cloud showing top keywords and phrases in the cold/flu remedy conversation with the largest word being "body".

We used the platform’s compare search function to measure mentions of those remedies against two other common ones, cough syrup and hot drinks.

Most talked about remedy: Hot drinks

Is a cup of hot water or tea your go-to cold and flu remedy? They are for many people! Hot drinks had the highest share of voice of the five remedies analyzed.

A bar chart showing the share of voice of each of the five remedies analyzed, with "hot drinks" scoring the highest at 5.56K mentions.

Some of the top hot drinks mentioned were ginger tea, black tea, green tea, hot water, and general herbal tea.

Taking medical advice from social media isn’t always advised, but in this case, the science backs up the popular recommendation. In 2008, a study from the Common Cold Center at Cardiff University confirmed that hot drinks do indeed help relieve common cold symptoms.

Read our healthcare industry consumer intelligence report for a data-rich analysis of current consumer trends and preferences.

Most liked remedy: Garlic

Our share of voice by sentiment chart reveals that garlic had the highest proportion of positive sentiment of all of the remedy conversations.

A bar graph showing the share of voice by sentiment of each of the five remedies analyzed.

And though garlic does have some health benefits, the scientific consensus on its use to prevent cold and flu symptoms is still mixed.  

On the flip side, the cough syrup conversation had the highest proportion of negative sentiment, which included mentions of supply shortages, questions about safety, and concerns about side effects.

In the end, there is no cure for the common cold; instead, experts recommend rest and staying hydrated to treat colds and mild cases of the flu. While the internet can be a great resource for initial research, trusted healthcare institutions and professionals — especially ones you know offline, like your primary care physician — are the best resources for healthcare advice. 

For healthcare industry marketers, the key to reaching consumers is understanding their information-seeking habits, preferences, and needs. Read our 2023 Industry Snapshot: Healthcare report for a deep dive into the sector’s biggest trends, challenges, and new opportunities. Then, learn more about how Meltwater consumer intelligence insights can boost your marketing strategies with a free demo today.