Dealing with Colds This Winter
There may be no cure for the common cold, says David Rakel, MD, director of the UW Health Integrative Medicine Center, but if you catch a cold this winter - and you probably will, as adults get two to four colds per year - you can do more than load up on tissues and endure the onslaught of runny noses and volcanic sneezing.
"Medicine doesn't have a cure for colds and other viral illnesses," says Dr. Rakel, "but there are things that you can do to shorten the duration and reduce the severity of symptoms."
Here are a few tips to help you cope with colds and speed your recovery:
- Push fluids: "Maintaining appropriate hydration is the most important thing you can do to help your body recover from a viral infection," says Dr. Rakel.
Drink enough water so you urinate four or five times per day.
- Cut out simple sugars: Most Americans eat more than 200 grams of sugar each day, and as little as 100 grams will slow white blood cell activity within 30 minutes, hampering your body's natural immune system processes.
- Gargle: Take one cup of hot water with ¼-teaspoon salt and gargle for a few minutes, four times per day. A mix of peroxide and water for a cold gargle for tonsillitis can also help.
- Inhale steam: Put a towel over your head and carefully inhale the steam from a pan of boiling water. "You can add eucalyptus - a handful of dried leaves or one or two drops of essential oil," Dr. Rakel says, which, when inhaled with the water, can reduce inflammation and congestion.
- Be smart about medicines: Not all cold remedies that crowd the drug store shelves are equally effective. While nasal cromolyn, which is found in products like Nasocrom, makes it harder for viruses to bind, antihistamines like chlorpheniramine and Benadryl might impair mucus flow and make you more congested.
Consider tea: Using medicinal tea can be beneficial by encouraging hydration and treating symptoms. For viral infections, green tea (which is the same leaf as dark tea but has not aged or fermented as long) helps support the immune system in helping the body recover from infections.
Ginger tea can be quite helpful for nausea and vomiting.
Watch Dr. Rakel's video demonstration of how to make ginger tea on YouTube
Supplements are another avenue for relief, but don't dawdle, says Dr. Rakel.
"Viruses reproduce at the greatest rate during the first 48 hours of an infection," he says. "You will have the most benefit from using these supplements if they are started within the first two days of symptoms."
Zinc: Look for it in lozenges that contain either zinc gluconate or zinc acetate and nasal gels made of zinc gluconate. Adults can use two lozenges containing at least 12.8 milligrams of zinc acetate or gluconate every three hours for no more than a week. Children should take one lozenge no more than five times daily for no more than a week. If you prefer a nasal gel like Zicam or nasal spray, use it every four hours until symptoms subside.
"They all seem to help if used at appropriate doses within the first 24 hours of an illness," Dr. Rakel says. "Zinc acetate may work best orally, but don't use zinc at high doses for more than a week because it can lead to decreased levels of minerals like copper and iron."
- Vitamin C: It's been a subject of increasing debate, but vitamin C appears to shorten viral illnesses by about a day. Adults can handle one gram a day for five days, dividing that gram into 250 milligram doses. Children should take 250 milligrams daily for five days. Orange juice, of course, is a good source of vitamin C. Three to four glasses per day will provide nearly 250 milligrams and help with hydration.
- Andrographis: Andrographis is a traditional Ayurvedic herb that seems to significantly improve cold symptoms by increasing white blood cell activity, and also staves off fevers and sore throats.
Dosing is 400 mg three times a day, and Dr. Rakel also stresses that very high doses can cause gastrointestinal distress.
Finally, don't forget that the best way to deal with colds is to prevent the next one.
"Wash your hands regularly," Dr. Rakel says, adding that elevated levels of perceived stress are also associated with getting more colds, so you'll benefit from learning to see life through more peaceful lenses. "Some of our research has also shown that feeling empathy from another person (in our case, clinicians) was associated with reduced severity and duration of a cold. So hang out with people who care about you, but refrain from giving them a hug!"
Date Published: 12/14/2012