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The Common Cold

Now is the time to put up your defenses by Julie Stafford FIT Magazine October 30th 1995

Your daughter wakes up with a sore throat, stuffy nose and a cough. And you know what’s coming next. First your son catches the bug. Then you start feeling icky. And then it grips your husband. Welcome to the cold season. Hippocrates, a Greek doctor considered to be the father of modern medicine, believed that colds were caused by too much waste matter in the brain, which resulted in a runny nose. The cure he prescribed? Bloodlettin, which was done by applying leeches to a patient’s skin.

Thank goodness today’s remedies for staving off and fighting the common cold and influenza are much less traumatic: getting plenty of rest, eating right , getting a flu shot. While colds already have hit some homes with full force, the flu doesn’t usually arrive until the end of December or January. The bug sticks around through March. “Americans use the word ‘flu’ generically to say ‘I feel awful’,’” says Dr. Howie Wolf, a family doctor in Lafayette. “If you were my patient and came to see me and said,’I had the flu in August,’ I’d ask you to define your symptoms. Sometimes they mean vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes they ache all over. Sometimes it’s a runny nose…What they probably had is another viral illness. Sometimes strep can start out with chills and fever.” Besides a general blah feeling, colds often come with a sore throat, runny nose, cough , fever. Multiply those symptoms by two, add body aches and you’ve got the symptoms for the flu. Influenza doesn’t result in vomiting; the medical term for stomach flu is viral gastroenteritis.

Both the cold and flu are caused by viruses passed through the air by way of sneezes and coughs. You also can catch a bug through direct contact such as handshakes and sharing telephones and computer keyboards. We get colds more often during the winter than in warm weather months for two reasons, says Tara Skye Goldin,N.D., a naturopathic doctor who practices in Boulder. “One is that the changes in temperature from cold to warm, warm to cold really attack the immune system,”she says.”so if you’re under a lot of stress or you’re not quite healthy, you’re more likely to come down with something.” The other reason is that people spend more time inside in close contact with others. Kids in school are a good example.

The best remedy to the common cold and flu ,experts agree, is prevention. It’s key to wash your hands. “Wash your hands many times a day,”says Dr. Adrina Weinberg, an infectious disease specialist with University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. “Avoid direct contact with other people and avoid crowded environments. If your kids have a cold, keep them home from school. Teach children the basic rules of hygiene, like washing their hands frequently and not sucking objects that other kids have.” A good policy is to wash your hands after every time you go to the bathroom and before every meal and snack. Goldin says it’s also important to get plenty of rest, take extra vitamin C and beta carotene. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar, dairy products. Eat more whole foods and concentrate on a balanced diet. Exercise also will help your body work more efficiently. You can also strengthen your immune system, she says by including such herbs as osha, astragalas, ginger and licorice root in your daily diet.

If you feel a cold beginning to take hold, Goldin says there are homeopathic remedies you can take to help relieve symptoms. She also recommends drinking hot tea, taking detoxifying baths using one pound of Epsom salts and drinking lots of water which helps flush the system. Goldin warns against drinking too much orange juice. “You don’t want to take pure juice because it has lots of sugar in it, even though it’s natural sugar. It can deplete the immune system.” A better bet, she says is trying a glass of vegetable juices or a half glass of apple juice diluted with a half glass of water.

Wolf says that many times patients will come to his office when a cold is just settling in asking for an antibiotic. But those won’t help, he says because colds aren’t caused by bacteria. If you feel lethargic, are sneezing and your nose is dripping with clear mucous, rather than yellow mucous, the best recommendation is to take it easy. But if the cold is in its fifth to eighth day, it’s not getting better, your mucous is yellowish, your ear aches, then it’s likely that a bacteria has settled into your system and an antibiotic will work.

Over the counter medications are OK, Wolf says. But they only relieve symptoms, they don’t treat the cold. According to Wolf and Weinberg, the best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu shot before the end of November. It’s especially important, according to Weinberg, for the following people to get the vaccine: health care professionals, older folks, people with chronic lung disease and heart problems. But she also recommends that all adults get a shot.

Goldin, who relies on naturopathic remedies for prevention and treatment, says that if you come down with the flu, you should up your intake of vitamin C—when your stools get runny, that’s when you know you’ve had enough. You also can use the herb echinacea as needed, but not regularly. Fevers aren’t necessarily bad, either—unless it’s too high or lasts too long, she says. That means more than 103 degrees in an adult, more than 104 degrees in a child, with the temperature sustained more than 24 hours. “Suppressing a fever is probably one of the worst things you can do,”Goldin says.”Your body is creating the fever as a method to burn out pathogens.”

So how do you know when to seek professional help? “I would say if it’s going on for a long time and not getting any better and it’s running you down,” Goldin says. “If it’s going into the chest, if intermittent fevers are lasting more than five days. If you have a high fever, I recommend coming in. If it’s a croupy sounding cough, get checked out to rule out whooping cough.” Goldin says it’s also a good idea to make an appointment for your kids if they’r having repeated colds and ear infections. Remember your grandmother’s advice “Starve a cold, feed a fever’? Goldin recommends listening to your body instead of grandma. “Follow your appetite,”she says.”If you don’t want to eat, it probably means you shouldn’t eat.” While there may not be scientific evidence to prove that it helps, all these experts agree that there’s nothing better than a bowl of matzo ball soup when you’re sick.