How To Make A Nasty Cold Suck Less

How To Make A Nasty Cold Suck Less ... 18/10/2016 Health

Keywords:#American, #Antibiotic, #BBC, #BP, #Benadryl, #Brent, #Campbell,, #Echinacea, #Health, #Hospital, #Los_Angeles, #MD, #Mathew_Olson, #New_York, #New_York_Times, #Science, #Times, #United_States, #Vitamin, #White_House

By Mathew Olson
Oct 17 2016, 12:01 PM
Some people take pride in the fact that they never seem to get sick, or count their blessings for making it through virus season without so much as a runny nose. Good for them.
Most adults will probably get sick with the common cold two or three times in a year. One American Medial Association study estimated that each year the United States suffers from 500 million cases of the cold.
The only way you get ill with the cold is through viral infection — getting chilly or wet doesn’t make you more susceptible. You’re an adult, you know there’s no silver bullet cure for a cold — what can you do to at least make it suck less? Cue up the montage music, because it’s virus fighting time.
Some Little Rituals Actually Work Quite Well
If you’re not yet sick and desperately want to avoid it, there’s plenty you can do to boost your protection a little. There’s a lot of cold-care knowledge that’s just plain common sense (avoiding contact with phlegmy pals, washing your hands) and some that seems helpful but equally likely to be folk wisdom. compiled a list of little tips along with the reasoning behind them. Though some of the tidbits are highly situational and not vetted by medical professionals — a flight attendant recommends disinfecting hands with vodka when other options are unavailable — others shed light on those perennial cold fighting tactics we all grew up with. For instance, here’s what a hot cup of tea can actually do for you:
"I drink hot black or green tea with lemon and honey. Drinking the tea and breathing in steam stimulates the cilia—the hair follicles in the nose—to move out germs more efficiently. Lemon thins mucus, and honey is antibacterial."—Murray Grossan, MD, ear, nose and throat specialist at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, in Los Angeles
Stimulating nose hair to shuffle germy snot out more efficiently is never ever what I picture happening when I drink my Earl Grey, but there you have it. Another gem of advice: start carrying your own pen during cold season, and use it to punch the grimy buttons on an ATM. Better than wiping it down with vodka, certainly.
Vitamin C Won’t Keep You Safe, But It Might Help You Out
You can put down the packet of Emergen-C, it won’t keep you from getting sick. MedLine Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, has the skinny on vitamin C for colds — “skinny” as in there’s not much to it:
Although not fully proven, large doses of vitamin C may help reduce how long a cold lasts. They do not protect against getting a cold. Vitamin C may also be helpful for those exposed to brief periods of severe or extreme physical activity The likelihood of success may vary from person to person. Some people improve, while others do not. Taking 1000 to 2000 mg per day can be safely tried by most people. Taking too much can cause stomach upset.
So, vitamin C is kind of a crapshoot for the common cold. Vitamin C is essential for tissue growth and serves as an antioxidant, but on paper its defense boost against the cold is minimal at best. MedlinePlus notes that vitamin C supplements shouldn’t taken by those who are pregnant or have kidney disease. And healthy diet will give you all the vitamin C you need without the need for supplements.1 So just eat some dang fruit.
Souper Science
Chicken soup might be the number-one most popular cold aid. While Campbell’s and Progresso are very happy to have you think that soup helps regardless of its real efficacy, here’s the good news: There’s research that says a can of that bird broth will actually do you some good. The New York Times wellness section cites a study by Dr. Stephen Renard that points to chicken soup’s effect on white blood cells:
Using blood samples from volunteers, he showed that the soup inhibited the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection. Dr. Rennard theorizes that by inhibiting the migration of these infection-fighting cells in the body, chicken soup essentially helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms.
[The New York Times]
Inhibiting your body’s cellular defenses here actually proves useful, since it’s your body’s taxing expenditure of energy to fight a cold that leaves you feeling drained and icky. Of course, this is only one study, and the researchers didn’t pinpoint which ingredient in the soup had the neutrophil-inhibiting effect. This might be good news for vegetarians and vegans, however: the other soup ingredients included “onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, parsley, salt and pepper.” If you’re sniffling and meat-averse, consider trying a stew of the other ingredients and cross your fingers for that inhibitory relief.
Sipping Syrups And Consuming Capsules
If an over-the-counter cough syrup has ever let you down by tasting awful and not helping with your hacking and wheezing, it could be that you were using the wrong kind. While most cough syrups are combinations of symptom-fighting medicines, they might not contain both a suppressant and an expectorant. WebMD helpfully breaks down the difference — a suppressant (like dextromethorphan or ‘DM’) will block the cough reflex while an expectorant will thin out mucus. With an expectorant (like guaifenesin) you might continue coughing, but hopefully you’ll use less force to clear out the phlegm.
Taking care of the cough isn’t always the wisest move with a cold2, so be careful regarding the severity of your symptoms or other potential complications:
The doctor may tell you not to treat a cough from a cold unless it keeps you up at night or gets in the way of your daily life. Coughing up mucus helps keep your lungs clear. This is especially true if you smoke or have asthma or emphysema. Dextromethorphan can affect drugs that treat depression. Also, some combination cold and cough medicines contain decongestants, which can raise your blood pressure. So skip them if your BP is high or if you have heart disease.
Combination syrups will often mix a pain reliever like acetaminophen with cough-fighting ingredients, and either an antihistamine or decongestant. Of course, antihistamines and decongestants can be taken on their own and have decidedly different ways of tackling the stuffy nose problem.
Antihistamines block histamine in your body, the release of which makes nasal tissue itch and swell. Decongestants, in pills or sprays, reduce swelling directly by encouraging vasoconstriction. Both are commonly used to fight allergy symptoms as well, but WebMD calls out that some newer and perhaps more common antihistamines aren’t proven to work for colds, namely Claritin and Allegra (good old Benadryl should offer some relief).
Choosing Your Side Effects
The side effects for antihistamines and decongestants can be pretty annoying, so when it comes to making a cold more bearable you might consider which drawbacks to medicating are more OK for your path to recovery.
Fine with drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness and perhaps a headache? Consider taking antihistamines. Decongestants will generally keep you awake and raise your blood pressure, so those who have trouble sleeping and/or high BP might have to pass on the powerful mucus-clearing properties.
Remember with all of these medications to be doubly careful with combination drugs, especially those containing pain relievers, WebMD warns:
If you choose a combination medicine, make sure you know everything that's in it. Check to see if it has acetaminophen. If so, follow the directions on the label carefully, and don't take acetaminophen along with it, because it could cause serious liver damage.
It can be tempting to load up on every cold relief medicine you’ve got in the house when suffering through symptoms, but the wrong dosage or easily avoided side effect could just make your day that much worse. Recovery isn’t a competition, so figure out what medicines are right for you and don’t try to rush things.
What You Probably Shouldn’t Take
For such a super-common affliction it should come as no surprise that there are supplements and medications out there that merely amount to placebos (or worse). Here are some you should avoid:
Don’t Think Zinc
Zinc might stop rhinovirus from multiplying — with big emphasis on might. An analysis of several zinc studies concluded that zinc could help reduce the length of a cold by a single day, but didn’t recommend zinc remedies. Dr. Brent Bauer explains why for the Mayo Clinic:
None of the studies analyzed had enough participants to meet a high standard of proof. Also, the studies used different zinc dosages and preparations (lozenges or syrup) for different lengths of time. As a result, it's not clear what the effective dose and treatment schedule would be. Zinc — especially in lozenge form — also has side effects, including nausea or a bad taste in the mouth. Many people who used zinc nasal sprays suffered permanent loss of smell.
[Mayo Clinic]
Yeah, having a cold is no fun, but losing one of your senses for good is worse. The lack of an established dose and treatment schedule makes it really hard to recommend a useful way of incorporating zinc into a cold contingency plan.
Please, Avoid Aiding The Antibiotic Apocalypse
Repeat this to yourself until it sinks in completely: antibiotics do not treat viruses. Perhaps you already know this, but maybe you haven’t heard that the CDC has determined that 1 in 3 antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary. A lot of these prescriptions3 are given in simple cold cases, and can lead to immediate harm:
CDC researchers found that most of these unnecessary antibiotics are prescribed for respiratory conditions caused by viruses – including common colds, viral sore throats, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections – which do not respond to antibiotics. These 47 million excess prescriptions each year put patients at needless risk for allergic reactions or the sometimes deadly diarrhea, Clostridium difficile.
If thought of 47 million pointless antibiotic prescriptions contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria doesn’t scare you, maybe the thought of being in mortal danger thanks to diarrhea all because of a cold will.
Echinacea’s Flower Power Is Not So Groovy
My health-conscious dad made my brother and I take echinacea close to every day from October to February when we were growing up. I never had the faintest idea what it was supposed to do.4 The most refined study of echinacea as a cold medication only showed a 10-20% reduction in infection. Even in pursuit of that little boost, the jury’s out on what part or preparation of the flower is supposed to work. Lastly, the BBC notes that echinacea can’t even be recommended to everyone — there’s the chance that it could exacerbate problems in those with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
You’ll Get Better… Eventually
If you’ve still got a sore throat and a temperature after all this advice, we’re sorry. Let us know if there’s any simple symptom solution we neglected… just don’t get too close to us if you’ve been sick for less than a week.
Still need an adult? Check out our archive.
1 In other words, eat right and you + vitamin C will be friends forever. ↩
2 As a heads up for expectorant users: these drugs can cause nausea and vomiting. If you’re already queasy on top of being sneezy, consider avoiding guaifenesin! ↩
3 Erroneous prescriptions aren’t the only contributing factor in the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The White House’s 63-page National Action Plan is a long read but an easy skim — it touches on reducing antibiotic usage in agriculture, improving tests to identify dangerous bacteria, and funding research to aid the development of new antibiotics. ↩
4 Also, I think I pronounced it “Echidna” for a while.” ↩
Mathew Olson is a freelance writer and podcast guy

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