How to Get Rid of a Cold, Naturally

Posted on January 15, 2008. Filed under: Take Care of Yourself | Tags: , , , , , |

Tuesday is about Taking Care of Yourself

Photo by Crystl
ginger.jpgUgh. I have a cold and had to leave work today to come home and get into bed. I am one of those people who is guilty of presenteeism and I go into work where I won’t be productive, won’t give myself a chance to get better, and could infect my coworkers with the germ du jour that I am sneezing and coughing up.

However, as part of my commitment to taking better care of myself, I am pledging to not work through colds and allow myself the space and time to be sick. While work is important, we need to get a handle on what is truly an emergency or critically important. The truth is no one is laying on a table with their guts hanging out waiting for me to put it all together. And if they were, they wouldn’t want me coughing and sneezing all over their innards. Otherwise, most things at work can wait a day or two, or be delegated to someone else.

How to get better? Well being a geek, I have looked up a bunch of research for what does and doesn’t work. Being a mother of three, I have also had a lot of practical experience treating colds. So based on those sources of information, here is my 10 step plan for getting rid of a cold:

  1. Nip it in the bud. Start to take special care of yourself as soon as you feel that first tickle in your throat or sniffle in your nose. Don’t wait until you need to crawl into bed before you need some rest.
  2. Take zinc. More specifically, take zinc gluconate. This is a homeopathic remedy that is backed up by studies which show that taking zinc as soon as you start to feel symptoms of a cold will shorten the time you are sick. Studies have looked at both nasal gels and lozenges, and found both are effective.
  3. Drink. Lots. Most experts recommend drinking lots of fluids when you are sick, but don’t say why it’s good for you. There are lots of benefits to drinking water in general, which I have talked about before. When you are sick, you need to be well hydrated because your body is producing lots of excess mucus, snot and phlegm (they are really all the same thing) as a way to get rid of the viruses that are attacking your body. When that stuff is thin and liquid, it is easier to cough or sneeze it out. When you are not hydrated, it is thicker and more viscous and harder to get out. It’s just that simple. It’s also why a humidifier helps. It loosens the mucus.
  4. Rest. Sleep. Snooze. Do whatever it takes to give your body a chance to heal. The restorative powers of sleep are magical, and I always feel substantially better after I’ve slept. If there is only one thing you can do for yourself when you are sick, sleep would be the most effective.
  5. Blow your nose. Other people may be better at this than I am, but I actually hate to blow my nose. So I will sit all day and sniffle. But the mucus your body is producing is how it is getting rid of the viruses. So blow your nose, and get it out.
  6. Use a neti pot. I have a handheld shower and once accidentally shot some water up my nose when I was sick (not one of my more coordinated moments). After coughing, gagging and blowing the water out of my nose, I realized that my clogged sinuses were completely clear. This is when I learned about the ancient yogic practice of nasal washing, and the use of the neti pot for delivering a saltwater solution into the nasal cavities for cleansing. There was a recent article in the NY Times about the growing popularity of this practice for colds, allergies, and chronic sinusitis. I can say from personal experience that the practice definitely does help.
  7. Drink ginger tea. I haven’t been able to find any research supporting the use of ginger for treating colds, but I do know it tastes great and I always feel better after I have had some. I take some ginger root, slice it up and simmer it in water. Then I add honey. Speaking of which…..
  8. Take a teaspoon of honey. Tea with honey has been touted as a cold remedy for years. However, a recent study found that honey is an effective cough suppressant for children and worked as well as dextromethorphan, a common ingredient in cough medicine.
  9. Drink some tea, or coffee. Actually, drink anything that contains caffeine. Some people get a dry hacking cough that doesn’t produce much mucus, but causes coughing spasms. I get this and it is worse when I talk or laugh. Studies show that caffeine is similar to medicines used to treat asthma, and is an effective bronchodilator that makes breathing easier, and can relieve this type of cough. Obviously, if you have asthma, or are wheezing, you will need something stronger than a cup of coffee. Also, caffeine is a natural diuretic so drink extra fluid to stay hydrated.
  10. Say no to drugs. Most cold medicines are suppressing the symptoms and not really fighting the cold. Those symptoms–excess mucus and nasal congestion, and cough–are how your body is fighting the cold. So suppressing your body’s response is just prolonging your agony. Fever is an important part of the body’s immune response for fighting a cold, and should not be treated if it’s low grade (less than 102 degrees). However, if it goes higher, or you feel particularly miserable, fever is easily treated with ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

So that’s my 10 point plan. I have a cup of ginger tea waiting for me, and am ready to get some sleep. I hope to be better by tomorrow.



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7 Responses to “How to Get Rid of a Cold, Naturally”

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good job i to am home sick my husbandjust got a pot and is reading instructions on how to use it get better

After you try it, please leave a comment about whether it worked for you or not. Hope you get better soon.

I really, really like your down-to-earth advice. just need to mention a few things:

Zinc gluconate is not homeopathy – it is the real mineral in a rather high dose, and if one takes too much of it, one will get nausea. But it definitely helps with colds – backed by studies!

A neti pot works – but so does the hollow of your hand. And you don’t need an extra gizmo that gathers dust and bacteria.

DON’T blow your nose, as it drives the phlegm deeper into your sinuses. Suck it up and spit it out. And/or rinse your nose with saltwater. Dozens of times, if needed. Just don’t swallow the salty goo that comes down the back of your throat if you tend to have high blood pressure!

And once you are better: End every warm shower with a cold one – to “close your pores” and to strengthen you immune system. Studies have shown that you will have less colds if you take cold showers (just for a few seconds – it’s NOT winter swimming). Again: don’t do cold showers if you have high blood pressure or narrowing of the arteries.

Keep up the good work!

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

i agree with you that is what i do and it works

thank you! =) i think i’ll try it now!

My mum taught me a recipe where you get ginger and dried dates, boil and then add honey to the tea. It’s quite soothing actually, and tastes better than just ginger and honey.

Appreciate the effort to share the natural remedies. I shall try some of these. Thanks again

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    Musings on how a disorganized woman with a full time job, three kids and a real need to relax is trying to make life simple.

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