Its that time of year again! Colds and flu are set to make our lives miserable. Catching a cold can make you feel quite unwell for a few days, but isn’t as serious an illness as it can seem to be to you while you are in the midst of it.
The old saying “It takes three days to develop a cold, three days to have it, and three days for it to go away,” is pretty accurate, so if your cold has lasted longer than around nine days its time to ask your medical advisor for help as it may not be a cold at all.
Flu, on the other hand, can be a serious illness, especially if you are very young, in old age or suffer from respiratory complaints already. There are quite a few different flu viruses, and each behaves differently, so what do you do to avoid catching a cold or flu, and what can you do to relieve the symptoms if you are unlucky enough to get it?
First – all about Colds.
Colds are contagious viral respiratory infections that cause inflammation in the linings of the nose and throat. Because a virus causes them, taking antibiotics will not help, but there are many natural remedies that will help you cope. The symptoms of the common cold are familiar to everyone and include – nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, watery eyes, a stuffy head, headache, minor muscle aches and pains, tiredness and a sore throat.
What causes colds?
There are more than 200 different strains of the cold virus. Most adults develop immunity to the majority of them over time. The symptoms are not caused by the virus itself, but by your body’s defense systems working to rid you of the virus.
Colds are easily spread by direct and indirect contact with a cold sufferer, or via the air from the sneezing or coughing of someone who already has a cold. It is not exposure to cold, wet winter weather that causes colds, but a lowering of your body’s immunity due to stress, overwork etc. It is also thought that indoor (central) heating and dry air may dry out your nasal passages and make them more hospitable to cold viruses. (Consider using a humidifier.)
Maintaining a strong immune system by managing stress and living a healthy lifestyle is the long-term answer. Practitioners of Chinese Medicine and Qigong would also recommend that you maintain your vital life force energy (qi/chi) by practicing Tai Chi, Chi Kung or using energy for self-healing (as in Reiki). When you practice these energy exercises you raise your energy vibrations to a level that will guard you against external pathogenic factors (germs and viruses). Also, limit your exposure to the cold virus by washing your hands often, steering clear of people with colds, avoid sharing towels and phones, and try not to touch your face with unwashed hands.
Natural Cold Treatments
Supplements can help you recover faster as well as reduce some of your symptoms. Vitamin C, the most popular choice, does not actually prevent colds but will help boost your immune system’s response to the viruses and help shorten its duration.
Vitamin A taken in high doses (50,000 IU twice a day) at the first signs of a cold, can help fight the virus. Do not continue taking such high doses for more than five days. And if you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy do not exceed 5,000 IU of vitamin A per day.
Ginger is the favourite Ayurvedic cold remedy. Combine equal amounts of ginger, cinnamon and lemongrass, steep in a cup of hot water for about 10 minutes and then add honey to taste. Or replace the lemongrass with a pinch of cardamom.
The herb echinacea is an immune booster. This natural antiviral herb should not be taken for more than two weeks at a time. The herb Goldenseal can be taken along with echinacea and works well to reduce cold symptoms.
Zinc lozenges may also help speed recovery and may relieve sore throats. (Look for lozenges containing zinc gluconate, glycinate and ascorbate).
To soothe a sore throat try a gargle with warm, salty water several times a day, and drinking hot fluids, including tea and chicken soup, is soothing. If you can why not have a rest in bed if you feel bad.
When to call the doctor
Infants and the elderly may be at risk of developing pneumonia. If after a few days, the cold suddenly takes a turn for the worse, and you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, a productive cough, and a high fever then call a doctor.
If you have asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema, be prepared to call your doctor if you seem to be getting worse.
What to do about Flu (Influenza)
Flu is a contagious viral infection. A bad cold is very like a mild flu, but a more severe case of flu affects the whole body, with fever between 101°F to 103°F and chills, pounding headaches, joint and muscle pain, cough, dry or burning eyes, sore throat and fatigue.
The incubation period for flu is generally three or four days after exposure to the virus. Although flu generally lasts for less than 10 days, fatigue and lack of appetite may continue for weeks afterwards.
Just as with colds, the symptoms of flu are caused by the body trying to fight off the virus. And again, as with colds, there is no actual cure, although rest and some herbs and supplements can help make the symptoms more bearable and support the body’s fight against the virus.
People at greatest risk of developing complications with flu are the elderly, people suffering from chronic illness (such as heart or lung disease) and anyone whose immune system is depressed, such as AIDS patients, or recent chemotherapy patients.
What are the causes of Flu?
Outbreaks of flu are caused by mutating strains of three basic types of influenza viruses and often occur as an epidemic. The viruses are caught and passed on in the same way as cold viruses.
Type A viruses are usually the most potent and are most often responsible for epidemics. The B type viruses are less severe, and type C viruses are responsible for the mildest cases of the flu that are most like a common cold.
For people most at risk of complications, the flu vaccine is an option. Zanamivir (Relenza), which is a nasal spray, and oseltamivir (Tamiflu) are both anti-viral drugs that may be prescribed, but you need to take them early in the course of the illness for them to work.
Supplements that can help relieve flu symptoms.
Vitamin A may help shorten the duration of the flu. Take as recommended for colds (see above).
Taken in high doses (2,000 mg three times a day, for five days), vitamin C may also help.
Consider the herb echinacea to boost your immune system. Do not take echinacea for more than two weeks without a break though.
Also, try the homeopathic remedy called Oscilloccocinum.
Acupuncture can help some people to avoid catching flu, or to avoid the worst of the symptoms and shorten the length of the illness if you do get it.
Natural self-care remedies for Flu.
Stay in bed, resting or sleeping, until your temperature returns to normal.
Drinking plenty of warm fluids. Take water at room temperature and choose fruit/vegetable juices, or vegetable, chicken, or clear beef soups.
As with colds, to ease a sore throat gargle with warm, salty water and suck zinc lozenges.
If you have a dry, non-productive cough use a humidifier in the room and add eucalyptus oil or Olbas Oil to an oil burner.
And lastly – a general herbal remedy for colds and flu.
Crush a medium-sized garlic clove and half a teaspoon of fresh ginger, squeeze the juice of a lemon. Mix together with a teaspoon of honey in a cup of warm water and drink up to three cups a day.
For most people having a cold, or even flu, is unpleasant but passes fairly quickly, and the positive side is that you are unlikely to catch that same virus again for quite some time after you have had it because your immune system has developed antibodies against it. So pamper yourself and rest, you’ll most probably soon be better again.