Fighting a Cold without Cold Medicine

Colds are not fun. I can’t take painkillers, which eliminates most of the standard cold and flu medication, so when I get knocked out by the common cold, I have to look elsewhere for relief. If you can take Sudafed and Nyquil and TheraFlu and all of those lovely things that relieve your symptoms, that’s fantastic. You should do that. But if you can’t, or you don’t want to, here are some alternatives to your standard OTC cold meds. All of this can also be done in addition to your standard cold medication, if you’re the sort who likes to multi-task.

I felt my symptoms start Saturday afternoon. I very much do not have time to have an illness lounge around for a week – I’m a busy woman! So, Saturday, I went grocery shopping as soon as I felt myself getting ill, and bought food to make a meal that I knew I’d be interested in eating for the next few days in a row. There’s some old wives tale about “feed a fever, starve a cold” or vice versa, but either way, it’s nonsense. Your body needs energy and nutrients to battle whichever particular bug has invaded your system, and you should eat all you feel up to eating while you’re sick. Make something now, before your symptoms have become too unbearable, so that you’ll have it for the next few days.

As soon as I posted to Tumblr that I was getting a cold, the same response came from three people: Take Emergen-C! I didn’t have Emergen-C, but I did have expired off-brand Airborne, so that’s what I took. Both of these products, among others, give you a ton of vitamin C ““ often 1000% of your daily recommended value per serving ““ and Airborne, at least, suggests you take their product every 3 hours. For me, I take it when I remember to, which is about three times a day. Which means, for several days now, I’ve been getting over 3000% of my recommended dose of vitamin C.

Does this help? According to science, not really. The Mayo Clinic says that, unless you’re a marathon runner or similar, excessive amounts of vitamin C only slightly reduces your chance and length of cold. If you do happen to be a marathon runner, or participate in other “extreme athletic activity,” vitamin C reduces your chance of getting a cold by nearly half, so well done, marathon runners and extreme athletes. Science, of course, flies in the face of generations of people drinking extra orange juice when they’ve got colds, drinking tea with lemon in it, and generally upping their vitamin C intake when they’re ill. I’m very much of the “better safe than sorry” camp here, and while I don’t take a daily vitamin C supplement, I do make sure I’m drinking plenty of fruit juice and popping the occasional Airborne when I’m ill. At the very least, the extra hydration is beneficial!

While the results on vitamin C are, at best, inconclusive, Mayo Clinic reports that increasing one’s zinc intake does shorten colds, and make them less frequent. Zinc can be found as nasal sprays or lozenges, and I’m a big fan of the lozenges. Nasal sprays never seem to work right for me, especially when I’m congested. Also, all that congestion tends to dull the senses, so the flavor of the lozenge tends to not be so noticeable? But I’ve got friends who can’t stand them, so zinc may well be a matter of personal preference.

There is a trick to this, though, and I think it is important. Zinc supplements  are not to be taken within a half hour of consuming citrus foods, which is hard when you’re spend the day sipping on lemon tea, with the occasional Airborne tablet. There is an interaction between the acids in citrus foods and zinc which makes zinc less effective, though, so time things accordingly. On a good sick day, I alternate zinc and vitamin c as television episodes end.

The final big step for me when I’ve got a cold is the neti pot. Neti pots, as investigated in great detail by Hattie, are basically little teapots in which you mix warm salty water, to pour into your nasal cavities. I know, I know, gross. But also? Awesome. For anyone who gets a bit of satisfaction upon the popping of a blemish or the cleaning out of one’s ears, watching the gunk that’s currently inhabiting your sinuses be washed away is pretty much the best thing ever. You can breathe afterwards! And you can sleep! I do this twice a day – once in the morning and once before bed when I’m sick, they’re that useful.

Aside from these three proactive steps, a big part in fighting a cold as quickly as possible is what you don’t do. If you can, don’t push yourself. If you’ve got sick leave, use it. A cold can either knock you out completely for two days, or it can linger for a week. Better to miss a day or two of work than feel horrible the entire week. Sleep. Don’t drink alcohol until you’re feeling 100% better, but do drink a big glass of water or mug of tea every hour or so. This stuff may seem obvious, and taking downtime is not a luxury everyone has, but if you can take time to sleep and take it easy, do so.

Oh, and also? Splurge and buy yourself some tissues. I used to be horrible at this, and every cold would result in the skin beneath my nose becoming raw and painful. When everything hurts, you’re trying to minimize your pain, here. Buy tissues.

So, what am I missing? What do you do when you’ve got a cold?

By CherriSpryte

CherriSpryte wants you to know that The Great Pumpkin loves you.

16 replies on “Fighting a Cold without Cold Medicine”

Grapefruit seed extract is another FANTASTIC cold fighter!  I’ve used it several times this year when I’ve felt like I might be coming down with a sinus infection and/or cold and I have only had two sinus infections that lasted for three days instead of six infections that last for a week at a time.  It does not taste good and it burns when you let it drain into your sinuses, but it WORKS; it can even cure yeast infections and bacterial acne.  A bottle that contains approximately 200 uses is about $14 at any health food store or in the supplement section at stores like Fred Meyer’s or Whole Foods.

Like a few others have said, I’m all about zinc and sleep if I think I feel a cold coming on. I have some throat lozenges with zinc in them and I pop a couple of those and try to get to bed early if I can. Also, I swear I’ve, like, peed a cold out of my system before – either during that “huh, I wonder if I’m getting a cold” time or on the first day when I throat is really sore, I drink as much as I can (usually water but also tea and juice), and most of the time by the next day my throat is better if not fine and I only have a bit of the sniffles for a day or two after; the times I haven’t done this, I always get a full-blown, yucky cold.

Like the others: Yes. Lotion tissues for the win. In Australia, I used to buy ones with lotion AND eucalyptus! My boyfriend described it as “blowing your nose on a koala!” I also spring for a hot damp wash cloth when my nose gets raw. And like Ruby, I put chapstick on my lip and nose. I find Burts Bees to be the best because it has a little menthol in it which cools the sting.

Other tips: to bring down a fever, put a cold wash cloth on the back of your neck. I usually sleep with one there. I also put Vicks Vapor Rub all over my body (including on my lip). I find Vicks works in varying degrees but the smell is pleasant enough to do it anyway!

Tea Tree Oil.  Its an antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal powerhouse.

I have chronic sinusitis and used to get anywhere from 6-10 sinus and upper respiratory tract infections a year.  I have been using saline washes for years (I prefer the squeeze bottle kind to the neti pot).  In the last couple of years I started adding tea tree oil to the mix.  My squeeze bottle has a a little straw in it (I use a Neil Med bottle).  I dip an eighth of an inch of the straw in Tea Tree Oil then shake off the excess, put the straw and cap on the bottle, shake really well and rinse.  If I use the Tea Tree Oil at the very first sign of an impending sinus infection, more than half the time I won’t end up in the Dr.’s office for antibiotics.  I use the Tea Tree Oil/Saline wash at least four times a day (sometimes more) if I think I might be getting sick.  Word to the wise – its stings a bit the first time you use it, but it does work, and you get used to the sting.

Also, look into hypertonic vs. tonic saline solutions.  Hypertonic will dry your sinuses out, tonic will moisturize.  Both are good for different cold symptoms.

I’ve kinda wanted to try neti pots but wasn’t sure this was something a single person could do.  I’m afraid of drowning myself…

I definitely up my zinc intake, sleep, and Thai food when I’m sick.  And seriously – the tissues with lotion are no joke.  I used to think they weren’t worth it but they SO are. The commercials with the nose running away from the tissues without lotion are  the *truth*.

More specifically on those tissues: get the lotion ones. And don’t be afraid to put chapstick on the end of your nose. The heavy duty healing kind, like Blistex, for skiers.

Also: if the cold has anything to do with my sinuses, I eat ass-tons of extremely spicy food. Like, no-chicken broth loaded with sriracha, 5-star pad Thai or curry, etc. It helps clear them out.

It helps that I like spicy food but when I kick it up a notch it’s extremely effective. Like wannabemusicologist up there, I’m a chronic sinusitis gal, but I developed allergies to a number of antibiotics after half my life having multiple yearly, so I have come up with ingenius ways to fight sinus infections without sulfa.

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