Some Home Remedies for Colds and Flu

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

So you have a cold or flu and feel miserable. It is that time of year. Your nose is runny, your throat is sore, you are coughing, sneezing, and are achy all over. Your appetite is poor and you are tired and irritable. What to do?

First off, don’t pick up the phone or go into your doctor to ask for an antibiotic. Not only do antibiotics not work for colds and flu, they have side effects and may increase the presence of drug resistant bacteria. Antiviral therapy for influenza (not the stomach “flu”) can shorten the course of the illness by a day or two if started in the first 48 hours of the illness. Get a flu shot to prevent getting it in the first place.

There is a surprising lack of evidence on over-the-counter cold remedies containing decongestants and antihistamines. These may provide some relief in older children and adults but side effects can limit their usefulness. Avoid if pregnant or in children under 5 as they are one of the 10 leading causes of death in this age group.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure so before you get a cold or flu, consider the following which have been shown to reduce risk and severity of illness:

• Eating a nutritious diet with foods rich in Vitamin C (fruits and vegetables) and zinc (meat, nuts, cereals, seafood, and pumpkin seeds)
• Don’t smoke and also avoid second hand smoke
• Maintain regular exercise and movement
• Maintain supportive social relations
• Reduce stressors and foster positive emotions
• Wash your hands frequently and try to reduce exposure to people with colds
• Get the flu shot annually

A surprising line of research has shown the effects of mind-body therapies such as stress management, relaxation, and meditation on reducing upper respiratory infections. I have ben struck over the years when treating people with colds and flu with how many, if asked, report significant stress in their lives preceding the current illness. The infection seems to be a barometer of our stress levels and our emotional depletion or resilience.

Some other common sense approaches are to get the rest your body needs and to drink lots of fluids. Orange juice is a great choice.

One underutilized therapy is nasal irrigation which helps reduce mucus, relieves obstruction of the sinuses, helps quench post-nasal drip induced cough, and can rinse out inflammatory cells. The salt solution is about half a teaspoon in 6 ounces of water, about the taste of tears. It can be instilled through a bulb syringe, a neti pot, spray bottle, or by snuffling it from a cup.

A personal favorite of mine is Vitamin C at around 3000 mg/daily in divided doses during a cold and lower doses 200-500 mg for prevention. Vitamin C rich foods a good choice. Vitamin C is safe, cheap, and readily available. Zinc is also useful for immune support though don’t use nasal zinc preparations as they have been reported to cause loss of sense of smell. Keep your Vitamin D level up as it supports immunity as well.

Probiotics to prevent or improve cold symptoms. I have found them to be particularly useful in those with recurrent sinus problems and who have been on multiple rounds of antibiotics.

Some other home remedies are:
• Echinacea 900-1800 mg daily for 3-4 days at onset of cold
• Andrographis 300 mg 4X daily for 3-4 days at onset of cold
• Elderberry extract, 1 Tablespoon 4X daily at onset of influenza
• Chicken soup
• Hot toddy
• Warm lemon juice and honey
• Saunas or hot showers
• Expectorants like guaifenesin
• Pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naprosyn, or aspirin (no aspirin in children)
• Garlic
• Herbal teas such as peppermint, eucalyptus, chamomile
• Aromatherapy inhaling hot steam with oils such as lavender, peppermint, pine, thyme, tea tree, or eucalyptus
• REST!! You deserve it…’ve earned it…you need it.

by Dr. Victor S. Sierpina, the W.D. and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine at UTMB.  Published in the Galveston County Daily News.

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