The common cold got you down? Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Many of us simply don’t have time to lie around feeling miserable. There is work to be done and a family to raise, after all. Fortunately, many home remedies are available to try before booking a doctor visit.
Before going any further, it’s important to understand the difference between an illness caused by bacteria and one triggered by a virus. Antibiotics work well against cold-like bacterial infections and you should definitely see a doctor if your throat is red and swollen. (Shine a flashlight into your open mouth for a look-see.)
However, if the back of your throat doesn’t look inflamed (red and angry), your sniffly congestion is probably a strain of viral influenza and there is no medication to cure that condition. Flu treatment consists of everything a wise parent advises: plenty of liquids and bed rest. Time, nature, and a lot of feverish sweating will take care of the rest in most cases.
Fever, by the way, is the body’s natural virus-killing mechanism. Creating an internal environment that is hotter than normal makes germ-killing proteins in the blood circulate faster, making them more effective.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. During cold and flu season, these are words to live by. Keep your immune system strong by sticking to a healthy diet (including plenty of water), regular exercise, and enough good sleep. Kill pathogens by washing your hands with soap and water frequently, especially if you are in a place where others are in direct contact with shared surfaces. Avoid touching your face, nose, mouth, and eyes where germs can enter the body.
If at all possible, avoid contact with sick people. Of course, this isn’t always possible. Sooner or later, no matter how careful you are, the tell-tale signs of a cold or flu are probably going to show up. Now what?
Whenever I feel a cold or flu coming on, I start taking mega-doses of vitamin C. My normal dosage is 1,000 mg a day – I don’t mind if my body excretes the excess it can’t absorb and use. At the first sign of infection, I take 3,000 mg and continue with additional 1,000-mg pills every 2-4 hours until symptoms subside.
Scientists tell us that vitamin C doesn’t do much to prevent the onset of a cold or the flu but it has been shown to reduce the duration of cold symptoms by 8%-9% from ingestion of relatively high doses of vitamin C (up to 1 gm daily for several winter months). Larger doses produced greater benefits than lower doses.
Another study concluded that cold symptoms were less severe among adults and children who took 200 mg or greater amounts of vitamin C. The duration of cold symptoms dropped 14% in children who followed this regime.
My mother swore by the saltwater gargle to ease sore throat pain. The secret is to add a large quantity of salt to a cup of water heated as hot as you can stand without scalding the tender tissues inside the mouth. Heat water in a pan on the stove or in a microwavable cup.
Add salt to the hot liquid until it stops dissolving – and then add more. This creates a chemical state called supersaturation where there are too many water-soluble mineral particles for the water to absorb and that’s what you want.
Standing in front of a sink, sip some of the strongly salted hot water, tilt your head back, and gargle normally. Lean down and spit out the super-salty brew. Take another sip and repeat this procedure until the supersaturated saline solution is all gone. It’s okay to remove the salty taste from your mouth by swishing plain water around before spitting.
Keep gargling with supersaturated salt water gargles every 2-4 hours. It’s horrible but really works. (Thanks, Mom!)
Another cold remedy some people swear by is to eat a spoonful of honey mixed with black pepper. Honey has well-known therapeutic properties. Antibacterial compounds and antioxidants in the sticky sweet stuff boost the immune system and ward off coughs. Pepper contributes vitamin C, flavonoids, antioxidants, and antibacterial properties to the blend.
A honey/black pepper combo loosens up the phlegm stuck in your throat, lungs, and sinuses and helps you breathe easier. Roast 4 or 5 black peppercorns over a low flame, cool, and grind them into a fine powder. Add a pinch of powdered pepper to a half-tablespoon of honey.
Alternatively, you can make black pepper tea by adding 2-3 coarsely ground black pepper seeds to a cup of regular tea. When brewed, add 1 tablespoon of honey and drink the beverage warm. Repeat throughout the day and before bedtime as needed.
One last tip is to add moisture to the air you breathe to ease congestion and promote respiratory health. If your household heating system doesn’t include a humidifier, portable room models are available. My mother used the old-school method of simmering open pots of water on the stove to raise the household humidity level. Just be careful of steam burns and calcified, boiled-away pot bottoms.
Most colds run their course in a week or two. If symptoms such as persistent high fever, shortness of breath, or extreme weakness and lightheadedness last longer than that, it’s time to consult a professional health practitioner.