By: Dr. William L. Morse, TPCA Integrative Family Medicine
Below are the things that I use when I get a cold. I believe the sooner you follow these recommendations, the faster you can start your journey to recovery.
The first 4 – what I call the “Big 4” – are the most important ones.
1. Fluids – I find that if I hit fluids aggressively at the first sign I may be getting a cold, I get over my cold much quicker, may be even in the first few hours of the cold. Allowing yourself to be dehydrated will actually make a sore throat worse. Staying well hydrated allows the body to function properly and do its work to fight off the cold virus. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. They will actually dehydrate the body (it takes two cups of water to make up for one cup of caffeine or alcohol that you drink). The color of your urine will tell you how hydrated you are. Yellow means you’re dry and need more fluids. Clear means your tanks are full and you are putting out the excess – this is good!
2. Rest – This is a dirty word in America, I know, but very beneficial to your immune system. Getting behind on sleep prolongs cold symptoms. REST doesn’t necessarily mean SLEEP.
Listen to your body. If you are sleepy, get more sleep. If you’re tired and run down, slow down a little and let your body rest. You may be able to work, but take the extra things off your schedule and stay at home in your off time to relax.
Personally I try to get to bed 1-2 hours early and that seems to make all the difference.
3. Vitamin C – This is an antioxidant that helps boost your immune system. I take 1000 mg in the morning and split up another 1000 mg during the day, even when I’m not sick. It makes a significant difference in reducing the number of colds I get. When I am sick, I add another 1000 mg at supper.
4. Zinc Lozenges – Zinc is the one thing that gets rid of my colds in about 24 hours…as long as I’m well rested. There are many brands available. I personally use Cold-Eeze… They work well for cold symptoms in the back of the nose and throat (not as well for cough). Try to use Zinc lozenges as soon as you feel the cold coming on. I try to take them no closer than 2 hours apart. I also try to get 4-6 in before I go to bed. After the next night’s sleep, the cold virus is usually dead. Whatever level of drainage I got to before the virus died then has to be cleared by the body. This may take some time. But the achiness and “sick” feeling is usually gone. That’s why it is important to do this as early as possible – the fewer symptoms you have when the virus dies, the quicker the recovery is. Some don’t like the taste of the lozenges. I prefer the honey lemon over the cherry flavor 🙂
Some prefer to use Zicam. It is likely that the Zinc in Zicam does the same thing as the Zinc lozenges.
The last 3 secrets can be helpful, but are not as important as the Big 4 above…
5. Echinacea -This herb is also an immune booster. I don’t tend to use this as much anymore. It probably works better in conjunction with the other things on the list than it would by itself. Unlike vitamin C, your body gets used to Echinacea after a couple of weeks. I recommend using it only when you’re sick. After you get well, stop using it, so that if you get sick again it will be effective. Echinacea is available in liquid or capsule form. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions. Liquid is good for kids. If there are no directions for kids, use 1/2 the adult dose for 3-12 year olds and 1/4 of the adult dose for children less than 3.
6. Ginger – This is my favorite decongestant (also my favorite anti- inflammatory for aches and pains of any kind and it also is good anti-nausea). I use Ginger capsules from Walmart. You can also use fresh ginger from the produce department. Just chop it up and steep in hot water, strain it and sweeten with honey to taste. It should help open up your nose in a jiffy. Using Ginger tea from a company like Celestial Seasons is also good. Ginger may cause heartburn for some people on an empty stomach or when taken just before lying down. Take it with food and you should avoid the problem.
7. Chicken Soup -Yes, grandma was right. At least one medical study confirmed that chicken soup reduces the length of time you have a cold. We don’t know why it works, but if you can, enjoy some soup.
A Word About Over-The-Counter (OTC) Remedies
OTC remedies are designed to reduce symptoms, but don’t get rid of the virus. Some people feel they work well – others don’t. Some don’t like the side effects these medicines cause. It is not necessary to treat the symptoms of your cold, but if you want to, then use them. It won’t hurt unless there is an interaction with another medication you may be taking (Ex. Coumadin) or a medical condition (Ex. high blood pressure). Consider this when selecting an OTC treatment for a cold:
- Antihistamines dry things up but can thicken them as well – Benadryl makes many people sleepy. Some other antihistamines cause less drowsiness.
- Decongestants open things up, but can make some people feel jittery and can raise blood pressure. Sudafed is an example. In combination remedies they usually are designated with a “D” in Mucinex D or Allegra D, for example.
- Expectorants like Robitussin or Mucinex loosen up secretions and have very few side effects.
- Cough suppressants take away a small tickle – a big tickle will still cause a cough though. They also have very few side effects. In combination medications they are often designated with a “DM” like Mucinex DM or Robitussin DM.
- Finally, there are pain relievers/fever reducers – Acetaminophen is the most common but Ibuprofen or Naproxen is commonly used as well. If you take multiple cold medications, be careful not to double up on Acetaminophen – an overdose can be dangerous.
Be proactive in your fight against the cold virus. Try to eliminate things in your life that challenge your immune system (things like smoking, tobacco products of any kind, prolonged sun exposure, poor diet and stress). Eliminating these will reduce your chances of getting the next cold. After all, it is your immune system that fights the cold virus.