Will an Onion in the Room Stop a Cold or the Flu?

Everyone wants a quick fix when they are sick. Not many people enjoy getting a cold, the flu, or any other illness. As soon as we feel the symptoms coming on, we try to think up a way to try to stop it. People will try everything from taking extra vitamin C to over the counter cold and flu medications and many, many remedies in between.​

One such "remedy" that gets passed around social media every cold and flu season is to place a cut onion in the room of the person who is sick. The claim is that onions have the ability to absorb bacteria and viruses and will actually pull the germs out of the sick person. 

This is just an old wives' tale. According to the National Onion Association, there is no scientific evidence that a cut raw onion absorbs germs or rids the air of toxins/poisons. 

Why It Doesn't Work

When you get sick, microscopic bacteria or viruses enter your body and multiply because your body acts as a "host". When your immune system notices these invading germs, it releases antibodies to try to fight them off. This "fight" is what causes the symptoms you experience when you get sick. 

If you have a cold, your body starts to make excess mucus, you may cough, have a sore throat or a headache due to swelling and irritation. All of these symptoms are actually your body's way of fighting off the germs. 

It isn't scientifically possible for an onion to pull germs out of you. Onions do not provide a good environment for bacteria or viruses to multiply or live.

Technically it won't hurt anything to try, but it isn't going to stop your cold. 

Where Did This Story Come From?

The folk remedy to keep raw onions in the room when you are sick dates back to the 1500s, according to the National Onion Association.

During the bubonic plague, cut onions were placed around homes to keep people from contracting the deadly illness. At the time, it was believed that all illnesses were spread through the air. These clouds of disease—or miasmas—were thought to exist when the air smelled bad. 

In more recent history, people used the cut onions in the room to protect against the 1918 flu pandemic. In one anecdote, a doctor had his patients place cut onions in their homes and they all stayed healthy while others in the community did not.

A Word From Verywell

Placing an onion in the room will not treat or prevent you from getting a cold. Washing your hands regularly, avoiding crowds during flu season, and taking care of your health by eating healthy, exercising, getting ample sleep can help you stay healthy this cold and flu system.

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Article Sources

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  1. National Onion Association. Onions & Flu.

  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Department of Health and Human Services. Viral Infections.

  3. Department of Epidemiology. UCLA School of Public Health. Competing Theories of Cholera.

  4. Department of Epidemiology. UCLA School of Public Health. Brief History During the Snow Era.