February 19, 2011
Darn, I think I’m getting a cold. This morning I’m a little congested and my throat doesn’t feel quite right. So, what do I do? I’m supposed to be a scientist and follow the evidence. The problem is that there is no good evidence that anything will abort or modify the common cold. There are all kinds of down home remedies and a host of over the counter (OTC) products that claim to work. There is a big difference between making a claim and actually proving that your claim is justified.
So, what do I do? I do what I ask my patients to do. I use Cold-Eeze (I have no financial interest in this product). For years, my patients have told me what OTCs they were taking and their perception of what the OTCs did for them. In a totally unscientific manner, I have tracked those responses. Some time ago, it became apparent that those patients who took Cold-Eze, a product full of zinc, did better than all the rest. Let me be perfectly honest. I don’t like taking Cold-Eze. It tastes lousy and makes my mouth feel lousy. I take it anyway. I want to get better as fast as possible. Today on Medpage (my internet physician news paper), there was a report that a newly released clinical trial suggests that taking zinc early in the cource of a cold will reduce the length of the cold by one day. It’s nice to have science verify what my patients have been telling me for years. It’s also nice to have an extra healthy day!
When I am unfortunate enough to get a cold, I also increase my fluid intake (mostly water) in an attempt to thin out my mucous so I can cough and spit it out. Mucous is really your enemy. I use a high dose of a mucolytic (Mucinex) to help hydrate and break up the mucous. I use a saline nasal spray to wash out my nasal passages and keep my sinuses open. I rest as much as possible, cover my mouth when I cough and eat a diet high in carbohydrates. Colds often take your appetite away and it is imperative that you take in adequate amounts of nutrients as your body works to fight the enemy. I humidify the air I breathe. When I’m sick, I try to make sure my body does not dry out (dehydrate).
I do not drink orange juice. While vitamin C is supposed to be good for you, orange juice is full of citric acid. Citric acid increases mucous and further irritates your already damaged throat.
I do not take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen for temperatures under 102 unless I am truly miserable. Fever is part of your body’s natural defense mechanism. When I sterilize a piece of equipment in the office, I heat it at very high temperatures in a pressure cooker in order to kill all the germs. Your body attempts to do the same thing. If you are miserable, take something. Stay wet; DRINK WATER!
I do not take nasal sprays that contain decongestant (phenylephedrine, oxymetazoline) unless I am totally miserable and can’t breathe out of my nose. If I do use these products, I use them only at night so I can sleep and only for two nights. When abused, these products actually cause nasal congestion.
I do not take drying agents like oral decongestants. If you are in the wilderness and find an actively running stream of water, it is probably safe to drink. A stagnant pool of water breeds germs and is never safe to drink from. I believe the same principle applies to your body. Let it run. Blow it out, cough it out and spit it out.
I do not take Echinacea or other herbals. Yes, they are derived from nature. Echinacea is ragweed and I am allergic to ragweed. These products insult your immune system. Mine is already insulted enough by my cold.
One last thought. Bacteria and viruses both cause green mucous. Yes, green mucous means you are infected but does not necessarily mean you need an antibiotic. Green mucous is full of white cells and means your body has recognized the enemy and is fighting back.
If your illnesses is worsening or failing to resolve despite the above measures, see your doctor. If you or your family is worried, see your doctor. If you are having trouble breathing, dial 911. The life you save may be your own!