Getting to Know the Common Cold
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Waking up with a tickle in your throat, a little headache and a feeling of anticipated horror. Coughing so much that you wonder if you’re finally getting those abs you had been striving for. Having a nose so runny that you “plug” your nostrils up with napkins… or tampons. Familiar? Winter is coming, and along with it is something potentially worse than the Night King: the common cold.
The common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) caused by a variety of viruses, and presents itself with the all-too-familiar symptoms of coughing, sneezing, sore throat, nasal congestion fever, aching limbs, etc., and on average lasts 7-10 days, not going beyond 3 weeks. Symptoms usually worsen during the first 3-4 days, but eventually resolve. Because 70-80% are viral, the only proven and tested remedy is a combination of rest, fluids and time.
Every intervention you’ve probably tried yourself, seen online or heard from your grandparents are geared towards symptom relief. Having had the cold more times that I would have liked to in the past as a night shift nurse, and now due to all this traveling (airplanes are total petri dishes for a whole bunch of diseases), I put together a list of interventions that has helped alleviate my misery during these dreadful times, and can hopefully help yours:
With a throbbing, congested head, one of the hardest things to do is to stay hydrated, because it means more frequent trips to the bathroom when all I want to do is superglue myself to a couch while rewatching all of Game of Thrones to see if my opinion of Bran will change in the end. Personally, I tend not to want to eat or drink at all when I have a cold because of that overall shitty feeling and my lack of appetite, but not eating will make things worse for your body. C’mon. It’s already fighting off a cold, now you’re making it fight off hunger?
Warm water with some lemon and honey will help with congestion. Honey also coats your throat, which will help soothe it from all that irritation you’re probably getting from coughing. Making sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day will help provide effective pulmonary toileting.
Whoops! Taking a step back. “Pulmonary toileting.” This is probably a term that my fellow RN’s are pretty familiar with, but it’s basically a way to take that gunk from yo’ lungs and flush it out of yo’ body. Drinking water will help thin out your mucus (gross, but necessary), which will make it easier to cough up.
Another way to stay hydrated and get some other nutrients in is to cook up some of that good old chicken soup, which has been found to help with the inflammation associated with colds. Maybe you can even read one of these #throwbacks while sipping on that soup.
Salt water gargle
This is something my Filipino mother and grandmother used to force me to do as a child. I thought it was an old wives remedy, til I decided to Google it just last week. Turns out Apu Cel was right! It is actually backed by science!
¼ to ½ tsp of salt in 8 oz of warm water is all you need. Gargle three times a day. “Where salt goes water follows,” – salt will help pull fluids from the tissues in your throat, and warm water will help alleviate throat soreness.
We found out about this stuff during our recent trip to Morocco.
Menthol crystals. Peppermint inhalant sticks. Vicks Vapoinhalants. Heck, when I don’t have any of these, I even just scrub a little tiger balm right below my nostrils. This stuff is so. good. Almost as good as getting a hammam. It helps with the congestion, and makes you feel human again while you’re sick with the cold. Darrel brings his peppermint inhalant sticks around everywhere, even when he’s not sick.
Peppermint actually contains menthol, which is an organic compound that has anesthetic properties. The crystals everyone tries to give you in Morocco are actual menthol crystals. It gives you that great cooling sensation when you inhale it, alleviating your discomfort. Aside from helping with a cold, peppermint can actually be used for many other things.
Concrete evidence for this is still lacking. The “Vitamin C to help your cold” theory went mainstream in 1968 with two-time Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling PhD’s claims that a 1,000mg of Vitamin C daily would be able to reduce incidences of the common cold by 45%.
To this day, the effects of a high dose (0.2g to 1g) of Vitamin C on colds is controversial, with some studies suggesting an average decrease in the cold’s duration by approximately 8% and incidence of cold by 3%, and other studies not showing any effects at all. Vitamin C supplements have been shown to benefit the more “physically active,” such as marathon runners and soldiers, by reducing the risk of these people catching colds by 50%.
I’m not the most physically active person, but as a firm believer in the mind playing a role in someone’s health state, this might even yield a placebo effect for me, which is why I take that 1g of Vitamin C daily when I have a cold. I also supplement my Vitamin C the day before, the day of, and a day after traveling on airplanes and buses, because I noticed I always seemed to get sick after traveling. Since doing this, I’ve had a lot less of the post-travel colds.
This tip isn’t for you, but for the people around you. You can start to spread those cold viruses up to 3 days before you show any symptoms. As a nurse, I already wash my hands pretty frequently as a force of habit, but when I have a cold, I get a little crazy with handwashing and using my antimicrobial hand sanitizer, because I don’t want any fingers (or for Filipinos, lips) pointed at me when someone else gets sick.
I hope this article provided some insight on helping to combat the cold this season. Stay warm this winter, my friends.
Please note that this article does not intend to replace medical advice. Make sure to consult your physician before using any type of alternative treatment to remedy a cold and if symptoms persist longer than 10 days. If symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, a fever unrelieved by antipyretics – anything that is out of the ordinary for the common cold, call your doctor or head to your closest urgent care clinic.
Levi, M. E. (2019). Primary Care Management of Upper Respiratory Infections in the Women’s Health Care Setting. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. doi:10.1111/jmwh.12938
Anderson, C. (2019). Retrieved 10 Nov 2019 from https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/features/does-gargling-wlth-salt-water-ease-a-sore-throat#1
Mayo Clinic Staff (2018). What works, what doesn’t, what can’t hurt. Retrieved 10 Nov 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/in-depth/cold-remedies/art-20046403
Julson, E. (2018). Does Emergen-C Really Work? Retrieved 10 Nov 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/emergen-c
Sarkissian, C. (2017). 12 Natural Treatment Tips for Colds and Flu. Retrieved 10 Nov 2019 from https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/12-tips-prevent-colds-flu-1#3
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