It's that time of year again! Viruses are spreading and we humans are suffering from runny noses, stuffed up sinuses, chest congestion, muscle aches and pains.
Most common colds are due to viruses. They are usually air borne and enter into the body when you breathe in or via your hands when you touch surfaces. Symptoms include runny nose, sinus congestion, sore ears, sore throats, and coughing spells. You may become tired, have muscle aches, and feel feverish. They generally last 5-10 days.
Unfortunately, antibiotics do not work against viruses. So don't use them unless you get a "second infection" deemed bacterial by your physician. (Usually you start to feel better, then get worse again with a fever and symptoms localized to one area (ie your left ear, or one of your lungs). Young children and Seniors are more at risk. If deemed necessary, then antibiotics will be discussed.
Over the counter cold-and-flu medication do not make the infection go away either. They are most ANTI - histamines. Histamine is released by your mast cells. Mast cells are a front line defence of the "army" that is your immune response. You may feel better temporarily because you have stopped the war, but then when the drug wears off, you feel awful again.
So what do you do?
Here are a few tips for adults and older children to get on top of a cold as soon as it you feel it coming on:
REST - Viruses are a part of life and in our GO GO GO society, we need to STOP and allow our body to use our energy to get better
Keep your Mucous Membranes MOIST. The Mucous membranes are the "carpet" that line the inside of your nose, mouth and throat. Keeping these areas moist helps your immune system flush out the viral infections and prevents virus form "sticking" (they get caught in the mucous and flushed out). So how do you do this?
Flush out your nostrils with Saline (Salt Water) Nasal Spray or Flush (Neti pots/Neti rinses). Carry a small spray bottle with you if you are in dry environments, and use it as needed. For babies and young children with congestion use saline nasal drops.
Take sips of water all the time!
Use Honey as a natural cough medicine and cough drops to soothe your throat. Over the Counter Cough syrups may suppress a cough and help you sleep temporarily, but you will find more relief in using a humidifier, and keeping a glass of water by your bed. Big Pharma makes lots of money on those OTC cough syrups, which are full of sugar and other things you don't need.
Sucking on Zinc Lozenges also have been shown to make the mouth inhospitable to viruses and bacteria.
2. Keep hydrated!
Water! Water! Water. Not tea. Herbal teas are DEHYDRATING. If you want a warm drink, heat up water and add a squeeze of lemon to it. I see so many people who get sick and over dose on herbal teas and then can't figure out why they are not better.
If your urine is getting darker or you are not going as much, drink an oral rehydration solution or diluted Gatorade (1/2 water + ½ Gatorade). For a more natural option try Coconut water, or plain old water and bananas. With these options you can avoid the added dyes!
REMEMBER: Water is fuel for our bodies. If the tank runs dry we cannot keep going. So fill your tank.
3. Make some home made chicken soup – boiled from the bones!
I often take the bones from roasted chickens I buy, and boil them in my slower cooker. I have lots of homemade broth ready to go in my Freezer! Add carrots and other vegetables for added vitamins. For vegetarians, vegetable broth works too! It is full of vitamins and minerals to help!
4. Be kind to yourself. You cannot force yourself to get better. So watch that inner Critic that thinks you should be better by now
The FLU Shot
So much controversy. Here's the deal. Vaccines are like homeopathy - they show your immune system what the enemy is so that you can make an immune response. (Unlike homeopathy, vaccines are actually tested and measured for effectiveness). So if you get infected, your body is better able to fight the infection and you don't get symptoms OR your body is able to fight the infection and your symptoms are LESS then they would have been had you NOT got the flu shot.
You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. But recognize that your body is constantly fighting infections. If you are brewing an infection and you get the flu shot, your immune system will be doing double duty and whatever dormant infection may get worse. (It is actually contra-indicted to get a flu shot with an active infection). As well, parainfluenza makes its debut just prior to "influenza" season, and you may get this and blame the shot.
The Flu shot is made yearly with what appears to be the viruses spreading that year. Sometimes, other virus take over and our yearly flu shot is not as effective.
The Flu Shot does not protect you from every virus. Only the the strains labelled and put into the vaccine. Commonly we may called every viral infection we get a FLU. However, medically THE FLU or INFLUENZA is a particular strain of virus. You may still get sick over the winter with another of the many viruses floating around that are not labelled INFLUENZA. The Flu shot is not guaranteed to protect you from them.
Your OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) covers the flu shot so that we can reduce the spread of flu and the burden of flu on society, and our health care system.
Here's more info: https://www.ontario.ca/page/flu-facts
If you are around individuals with compromised immune systems, including new borns, children, seniors, those fighting cancer (ie individuals who caught the flu could die), or you are self-employed, or unable to take 10 days off in a row, or you care about not being a vector to spread the virus in your community, then consider getting protected.
In my experience as an Emerg Doc and Family Doctor, anyone who has actually had Influenza does not hesitate to get the shot the next year! In fact, they are lining up and asking for it!
***If you have a fever for more than 48 - 72 hours or are getting worse, seek medical attention. If you have chest pain, shortness of breath, or are coughing up blood, go to the emergency room.