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What to do when a cold strikes June 13, 2010

Posted by Dr. Jacqueline E. Campbell in Alternative Medicine, Health, Wellness.
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A patient recently complained that she thought her body had let her down because “I’m always boosting my immune system with supplements”.  She further informed me that like many women who were busy juggling careers, children and home life, she was too busy to get a cold. I reminded her that there is a reason why it’s called the common cold. It is the most common illness known. A cold is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school and work. Women tend to get more colds than men. The reason for this is that women spend more time with children – whether at home or at work. Children catch colds easily and so if you are frequently around children, your chances of catching a cold will increase significantly.

The first step in fighting a cold is to make sure that you do have one. Many persons confuse the common cold with the flu. The common cold is a viral infection of the upper-respiratory tract that attacks the nose and nasal passages. Some of the symptoms include – sneezing, itchy throat, runny and stuffy nostrils. If you develop a persistent fever, hacking cough or a rash, you may have a more serious viral infection. Since the common cold is a viral infection, antibiotics, which fight bacterial infections, will not help in its treatment.

To shorten the life of a cold why not try the following?

1.   Stay hydrated-drink a lot of water coconut water and fresh fruit juice as these may help loosen and clear out mucous, soothe a sore throat, and replace fluid lost due to a fever or runny nose. The heat from soups, green and other herbal teas also help fight off the infection and relieve congestion. A favourite home decongestion remedy is drinking hot ginger tea with lime or lemon and honey.

Cold viruses thrive in cold, dry environments. By staying warm and raising humidity levels you can help to keep cold viruses at bay. This can be done by using a humidifier. Nasal passages can be cleared with the use of a neti pot and/or menthol inhalations.

2.   Rest and relax When the body is relaxed there is an increase in the production of interleukins, substances produced by the immune system to help it fight infections.

3.   To treat a sore throat –  gargle with warm salt water or use a mouthwash of sage tea or extract in water. Drinking licorice root tea is also good for sore throat and coughs. If this tastes too “strong” for you, add some peppermint. Slippery elm bark tea helps to soothe a sore throat because it contains mucilage, a gelatinous substance that coats the throat and reduces irritation.

4.   For congestion try the wet sock treatment as recommended by the physicians at Bastyr Center for Natural Health in the USA. In the evening before going to bed, warm your feet in a basin of hot water (be careful!); meanwhile soak a pair of thin cotton socks in ice cold water. Take your feet out of the hot water, put on the cold socks and then layer on a pair of thick, dry wool socks. Keep the socks on overnight.

Dr. Jamey Wallace, clinic medical director at Bastyr Center for Natural Health states that this treatment, known as a heating compress, rallies the body’s natural defenses. “The body reacts to the cold socks by increasing blood circulation, which also stimulates the immune system. You have to ‘rev up’ the immune system, so it’s ready for battle against the affliction or condition.” People with chronic illnesses should consult with a doctor before starting this treatment.

5.   If you blow your nostrils too much chances are that you will develop a chafed nose. Apply a small amount of aloe vera gel to the irritated areas. If you are lucky and have an aloe plant in your backyard, slit open a leaf, scoop out the gel and apply it to the irritated areas. Failing that, aloe gel can be purchased at the health food stores.

6.  Boost your immune system with supportive supplements These include:

• The anti-oxidants-Vitamins A,C E and the mineral selenium . I routinely recommend that my patients who are fighting a cold or flu, take at least 4000mg of Vitamin C daily. These amounts are usually tolerated by most people but may cause diarrhoea in others.

• Rosmarinic acid – found in rosemary, sage, mint, and perilla leaf.

• Echinacea – some studies have shown it may shorten the duration of a cold in adults if taken at the onset of the illness. It should be taken for a total of seven to ten days.

• Zinc lozenges -taken at the onset of a cold may shorten the illness.

• Garlic supports healthy immune function while exerting antiviral effects. My grandmother used to make garlic and onion cough syrup for me when I had a cold. She always had a peg of garlic in her mouth and my mother says that she as far as she can remember, her mother had never had a cold or flu.

7. Eat healthily – make sure that your diet is full of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.

While you are ill try to avoid dairy products, fried and sugary foods, alcohol and smoking. Alcohol suppresses the immune system making it difficult for the body to rid itself of the cold virus. Smoking irritates the throat and interferes with the cilia, microscopic “fingers”, that remove viruses and bacteria from your throat.

If your “cold” symptoms persist or worsen, please seek medical attention

DR. JACQUELINE E. CAMPBELL B.Sc. (Hons) M.Phil. (Pharmacology) M.B., B.S.

Dr. Jacqueline Elaine Campbell is a family physician whose special interests are Pharmacology, and the use of Alternative/Complementary Medicine in the treatment of diabetes and other diseases that are common in Jamaica.

She is the author of A Patient’s Guide to the Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus.




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