Wednesday, January 16, 2013

COLD REMEDIES - What Works - What Doesn't

natural remedies
How do you cure the common cold?

The season is changing – no not the weather season – the season where we see the common cold all around us! What do you do if you feel the symptoms hitting you? Do you have a favorite remedy that your grandmother passed on to you or do you rush to the nearest drug store to scour the isles for the best Over-The-Counter fix? Well, before you rush out, here are some tips for what works, what doesn't and what won't hurt.

What Works?

First of all, there is no cure for the common cold. According to the Mayo Clinic cold remedies are as common as the common cold itself! If you catch a cold, you can expect to feel the effects of it for a couple of weeks. There are things you can do, though, to ease your misery during that time.
  • Increase your fluid intake – Be sure to drink plenty of fluids such as water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water. This will help loosen the congestion in your chest and keep your body hydrated. Be sure to limit your intake of alcohol, coffee, or other caffeinated drinks as these drinks can cause dehydration.
  • Use a Salt Water Gargle – This will ease the sore throat that may come with your cold. You will only need about ¼ to ½ tsp salt with an 8 oz glass of warm water a couple times a day to ease your sore and scratchy throat.
  • Nasal Drops and Sprays – There are a number of nasal sprays and drops available over the counter. They will ease the stuffiness and will help you breathe a little easier. Be sure you follow the directions carefully to avoid any irritation to your nasal passages. Also do not administer to children unless approved for childrens' use and seek your doctor’s advice when it comes to treating children. Some people like to use a Neti Pot which can be purchased from your nearest health food store or drug store. This is used to clear the nasal passages with a salt water cleanse of your nostrils.
  • Antihistamines - These can relieve symptoms such as runny nose, cough, sneezing and watery eyes. However, there may be side effects, such as drowsiness and dizziness, and they are not recommended while driving. They can also interact with other medications you may be taking. Be sure to check with your doctor prior to using antihistamines.
  • Increase your Humidity – The dry air during winter is a haven for the cold virus, as it grows in dry air. Using a humidifier can put moisture back into the air and help to keep your nasal passages and throat hydrated. However, be sure to clean the humidifier and change the water regularly, as moisture can also cause mold growth.
  • Get Plenty of Rest – Grab a soft blanket and curl up on the couch. Take a nap or two. Your body needs plenty of rest to fight off the germs, so don’t feel guilty by staying in bed if you need more rest. Save your energy to help your immune system fight the cold.

What Doesn't Work?

There are plenty of old-time remedies passed on from generations that simply don’t work. The jury is still out in many of them. Some of the more common treatments that just don’t help but are still tried are as follows:

Antibiotics – These work against bacteria, not viruses. Antibiotics will not help to alleviate cold symptoms. Try to keep from taking antibiotics unnecessarily, as this contributes to antibiotic resistance, a growing problem in the U.S. Read our FamilyWize article, Time to Get Smart About Antibiotics, for more information.

Good old fashioned chicken soup is still a tried and
true remedy.
OTC cold and cough medications in young children - OTC cold and cough medications may cause serious and even life-threatening side effects in children. Acetominophen, also sold as Tylenol, found in many cold relief medications, can cause serious liver damage if not taken as directed. 

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association warns not to use certain OTC medications in children four years old and younger. Many companies have stopped manufacturing these products for young children.

Zinc - Zinc is an important mineral and necessary for the human body. However, it's value as a treatment or preventive for the common cold is mixed. Zinc can be found in some nasal sprays and has been found to affect the sense of smell. The FDA warns not to use zinc nasal sprays for this reason. Long term use of zinc, six weeks or more, can cause copper deficiency. Other side effects of shorter term use, less than five days, can cause upset stomach, irritation of and metallic taste in mouth. 

What probably doesn't hurt

Vitamin C - It appears that for the most part taking Vitamin C won't help the average person prevent colds. However, taking Vitamin C before the onset of cold symptoms may shorten the duration of symptoms. Vitamin C may provide benefit for people at high risk of colds due to frequent exposure — for example, children who attend group child care during the winter.

And please don't forget the old fashion Chicken Soup cure! Chicken soup has been noted to help open the nasal passages and ease some of the symptoms to help you feel better. This really does work!

There are also homeopathic natural remedies that are worth a try. One that has been recommended to me is Umcka. You can find Umcka in natural food stores and many chain stores. It is plant based and originated with South African folk medicine. It has pretty good reviews with few indicating any side effects. Most reviews were very positive regarding the intensity of the cold symptoms and a much shorter duration. It would certainly be another option to try if you find yourself fighting off that dreaded cold! Before using any over the counter medications, you should first check with your doctor to make sure it will not interact with any medications you already take and read the label for any warnings, such as not taking while pregnant, breast feeding, or if you suffer from heart or lung disease.

In the meantime, the best measure would be to get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and keep the air around you moist if possible. And finally, wash your hands often, especially when around others who are suffering from the common cold.

Cindy Foley
Contributing Writer

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