How to deal with cold, flu or sinus congestion.
Well I finally managed to fall prey to a cold. My body and immune system have been strong and healthy for more than a year thanks to taking good care (insert GOOD food, APPROPRIATE training, sufficient SLEEP, POSITIVE mindset & NOT TAKING LIFE TOO SERIOUSLY).
But none of us are invincible and after a busy Christmas of family and fun, training, and working as a pharmacist as well as therapist, I guess things just caught up with me.
I don’t have time to be sick for long or for elaborate solutions; so I will give you a synopsis of what I am doing with a few additional tips.
It is vital to catch the infection at the first signs of symptoms. These are often sneezing, tickly/ sore throat, runny nose, feeling under the weather, headache, increased thirst, fatigue, shivers, aches and pains, and also inability to maintain high intensity training sessions with a perceived increased heart rate.
1. Day off training. One day off is better being the dumb hero who ends up ill for a week or more. When it comes to training the answer as to whether to train or not is it depends. It depends on your symptoms, it depends on their severity and location, it depends on the chosen activity, the intensity and also the location or weather conditions. Please seek advice from a therapist, your coach or someone who knows what they are talking about.
2. Stuff in my tea – right now bay leaf, chopped ginger, cloves, lemon and a dash of stevia. I am not an extremist, but if you are up to the challenge garlic and turmeric are super additions. Cayenne pepper is also helpful; it can be a tad on the hot side for sensitive stomachs but super for the cold symptoms!
3. Broth in my tummy – I am a big believer in the healing power of broth. Last night I made a big batch using the following ingredients: fresh root ginger, fresh chili, several cloves of garlic, onion, celery, sweet potato (carrot will also be a good option), red pepper, green cabbage, bone marrow bones (I chose to also add some stewing meat on the bone that contained marrow as i wanted to add protein to the broth) and filtered water.
I forgot to add turmeric and highly recommend this power herb anywhere that you can get it in! Other fresh and dried herbs and spices can be added where and when you wish; they all hold numerous healing properties.
Just because you are ill and need to take a day off from training does not mean that you must starve yourself to make up for your inactivity. The body needs both energy and nutrition to assist healing. Quality protein, mineral and vitamin rich foods, colourful plant foods rich in antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory rich herbs and spices being of prime importance. Also, it is best to assist your body with gently cooked, warm and easy to digest foods like stews, soups, broths and teas.
Follow your intuition; your body usually knows what it needs
4. Herbs to chase the virus away. I am fortunate that I have an herbal artillery in the clinic so I mixed up a blend of Echinacea angustifolia, Sambucus, Olive leaf, Thyme, Licorice, Schisandra and Vaccinium for myself. Not everyone will require this same mixture and most herbalists have their own tried and tested blends for coughs and colds.
If you only have access to a health store or pharmacy then try to find yourself some Sambucus niger (e.g. Sambucol syrup) or some quality Echinacea or Echinacea + cats claw tincture. This should be sufficient to give you ample anti-viral support should you not have access to me or a herbalist.
Despite being a qualified pharmacist I don’t have much faith in over-the-counter remedies. At most they fire-fight your symptoms, at worst medications like decongestants can leave you with sinus headaches, over-stimulate sensitive persons, affect sleep and impact the cardiovascular system in heart disease or thyroid patients and for some drugs tested athletes they can leave you with a positive test.
IF YOU ARE A DRUG TESTED ATHLETE ALWAYS CHECK NOT ONLY WITH THE PHARMACIST BUT ON THE WADA APPROVED LIST BEFORE TAKING A MEDICINE. THIS IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY; DON’T LEAVE IT TO OTHERS.
What do I recommend when it comes to OTC medicines?
Firstly, there are only a limited number of drugs; so more often than not, the gazillions of products on the shelf have very little between their formulations. The marketing is highly misleading. Some products are stupidly formulated and others are better. ASK the pharmacist for advice; don’t simply trust the last advertisement you heard or read. Always be vigilant about where paracetamol is contained to avoid over-dosing should multiple formulations be used.
Don’t give young children medication unless they have a symptom that requires treatment; don’t treat just in case. Far better work on their immune systems with for example probiotics, sambucol for children, Vitamin D, probiotics, a nutrition packed diet and ample fresh air. Teach them about hand-washing.
Expectorants can be helpful to loosen phlegm on the chest, in the throat and loosen sinus congestion. Expectorants also assist antibiotics to work more effectively for a chest or sinus infection.
Pain relief IF necessary can be helpful for sinus, head, or musculoskeletal pain. But ginger, turmeric and other anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving herbs can be equally effective
Gargling with soluble disprin / aspirin or taking an anti-inflammatory lozenge or throat spray may be helpful for an inflamed and sore throat. Equally some people swear by gargling salt water.
Most throat lozenges are sweets and not much more than that. But sucking on a sweet or lozenge may keep a dry and irritated throat lubricated and less annoying. Tyrocets may be helpful as they contain a low dose of anti-microbial. Manuka honey, propolis or other herbal lozenges may be helpful but I am doubtful that the doses are sufficient to be beneficial. Nevertheless do what feels right for you; it all helps.
Steam inhaling with your head over hot water under a towel is a VERY effective strategy for sinus, chest, and ear congestion. Breathe in your mouth and out your nose. Aromatherapy oils can be of assistance for symptom relief.
Dry cough mixtures may suppress an annoying cough but I don’t see the merit in medicating a non-annoying cough; you are coughing for a reason! Chesty cough syrups may loosen phlegm but they will not make your cold go away any faster.
I am not a fan of decongestant tablets or combination remedies containing decongestants, anti-histamines or pain relief. I feel that they are an over-medication solution with minimal benefits and potential side effects. If you have sinus congestion you don’t really want to dry it up so much as loosen it up to allow it to drain. Some persons susceptible to bad sinus infections or headaches may find themselves worse following the over-use of decongestants (the mucus is hard and dry in the sinus cavities and this is painful).
Flu vaccines are controversial. I don’t wish to engage in a debate here. Suffice to say I do not get vaccines. I believe in working on my health and immunity from the inside out – mind and body. The flu is not common. Vaccines don’t prevent coughs and colds. Whether you do or don’t fall ill during the winter season is all about your total health and constitution and this is a reflection on how you care for yourself. If you are considering a vaccine for yourself or loved ones weigh up the unbiased pro’s and con’s.
Finally I do not recommend Tamiflu, which seems to be doing the rounds again. if someone is well enough to walk into the pharmacy with cough or cold symptoms with a prescription for this then they certainly don’t need the questionable benefit or potential side effects. The flu is a serious condition that will have the most of us confined to bed. READ THIS
The Tamiflu fiasco and lessons learnt
A cough, cold, or flu is a VIRUS and unless you have bacterial complications an antibiotic is never recommended. Instead seek the powerful anti-viral strategies offered by mother nature in the form of herbs, plants, foods + spices, and aromatherapy oils.
5. Positive mindset and acceptance of not only what is going on but a responsibility as to why I may be ill, my emotions and thoughts just prior to falling ill, and for my own healing moving forwards. Trust me, there is no bigger pain in the ass than someone that thinks they are dying of a cold… I know because I see it daily when I work as a pharmacist!!
Have a read of this: A Cold, your body speaks your mind.
6. Strategies to support the immune system – I keep my gut happy, I make a stricter effort with the quality of my diet (it’s already good to be honest), I ensure that I am hydrated drinking teas and broth, I move my body to stimulate the circulation and detoxification systems, I tap my chest/ breast-bone to stimulate the thymus, I don’t beat myself up about being sick or think that I am so important that the world will no longer spin if I am out of action for a day.
I slow down and allow myself have this rest.
I already have high Vitamin D levels but if I was unsure I would have these checked and take a vitamin D throughout the Winter months according to the results.
Here is a nice little read:
10 Ways You’re Wrecking Your Immune System
Ease yourself back into training, low to moderate heart rate training is less stressful on the immune and adrenal systems than high intensity sessions. Don’t allow yourself to get cold when sweaty, do eat after training, avoid fasted training sessions until you are fully recovered and do enjoy yoga, pilates, or stretching if you are up to it. Some yoga postures actually improve your ability to fight against and recover from a cold.
7. Sleep and power naps. The body needs energy to fight viruses and infections and to launch an immune response. Symptoms of fatigue, feeling hot, feeling tired, feeling irritable, not wanting to be around people and not wanting to train are all a request from your body to slow down, rest, and allow her/ him to heal. The more you honour the request then the faster you will be back to action. Fight the symptoms and you quite simply are fighting against yourself.
I will make a point of spending time in the peace and quiet connecting into the healing wisdom of my body and visualising the immune system doing a stellar job to get me better quickly. Don’t laugh – it works; what have you got to lose?
6. If I had a little more time I would consider the following:
Sunbed – yes you read that correctly. Why? for an instant Vitamin D boost. Vitamin D supports the immune system and may also have anti-viral effects.
Healing treatment on my PEMF mat in the clinic. Why am I already not doing this? It’s there, I’m here!
Vitamin C 3,000 – 5,000 mg daily in split doses (to bowel tolerance, some persons may even be able to go up to 10,000 mg while ill). Choose a good brand such as Solgar, Lamberts or Quest, choose an Ester-C form when possible (to avoid upset stomach) and take in many split doses throughout the day. Buffered ascorbic acid is another recommended form of Vitamin C.
I have had anecdotal reports of Cherry Active concentrate having beneficial effects against cough and cold symptoms; drink frequently throughout the day (in any case a useful intervention to prevent dehydration and also helpful for sleep).
For blocked nose/ sinus pain/ chesty cough steam inhale three times a day. This means filling up a large bowl with hot water, add a few drops of recommended essential oils and breath in the mouth and out the nose under a towel for 10 minutes. If you don’t have access to aromatherapy oils then don’t worry; the hot water and steam will also help to ease congestion.
Generally all these strategies result in a VERY SHORT cold; and i am 100% convinced that for many it could be the same.
as I am sick here is a photo of my Christmas tree!
PS: Here are a few additional tips for those suffering sinus pain and congestion. I don’t think many appreciate just how debilitating a sinus infection or chronic sinus issues are.
Recommendations for sinus infections:
The following are brief recommendations for sinus infections. If symptoms are severe or do not resolve or develop further into a head or chest cold please email me for further recommendations or see a doctor:
- Anti-inflammatory diet
- Hot spices like mustard, wasabi, horse-radish, chili and spicy foods
- Anti-bacterial herbs such as oregano, thyme and rosemary
- Eliminate sugars and dairy foods
It is important to rule out an allergic basis to chronic sinusitis. Patients with chronic sinusitis should be aggressively screened for environmental and food allergies. Environmental control requires the elimination of dust mites (warm water washing at a temperature of least 58° C), use of air-filtering vacuum cleaners, installation of an air cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air filter, and whatever methods are necessary to maintain the humidity under 50%. Some particularly sensitive patients may need to have all pets removed, along with carpeting and feather bedding.
For sinus problems I also recommend seeing a chiropractor or cranial osteopath with experience in sinus problems.
Recommended supplements for acute symptoms; please ask for specific recommendations if unsure of your needs:
To break up the mucus:
- Designs for health inflammatone – this one is highly recommended for breaking down mucus and its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredients
- Any good brand of NAC – N-Acetyl cysteine e.g. NAC: 200 mg three times daily
- OR other proteolytic enzymes such as Wobenzym-N or individually Serratia peptidase or bromelain:
- Bromelain (1200 to 1800 mcu): 250 mg three times daily
- Serratia peptidase (enteric coated): 50 mg three times daily between meals
- Guaphenison cough syrup – this not only breaks down mucus in the chest but also in the sinuses and so is recommended.
Antibacterial sinus spray
- SinuOrega nasal spray
- Or colloidal silver nasal spray
- Saline nasal spray from the pharmacy/ drugstore such as Sterimer or neilmed sinus rinse
- Homeopathics – King Bio Homeopathic, Sinus Relief OR Natural Care, SinuFix, Nasal Decongestant & Cleansing Mist
Immune and anti-bacterial/ viral support
- Buffered vitamin C powder at a dose up to 10g daily split across the day
- Cod liver oil which contains anti-inflammatory omega-3’s in addition to immune enhancing Vitamin A. take double the recommended dose for 14 days.
- Innate response formulas acute defense: http://www.innateresponse.com/Acute-Defense-p/44039.htm
- If you prefer individual herbs then the following may be helpful:
- Hydrastis canadensis-the dosage should be based on berberine content.
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