Common sense for the common cold

We’re well into the cold and flu season yet again and like every year there seems to be various strains that are dominant this year. Chinese medicine has long had a particular way of differentiating cold and flu depending on the various signs and symptoms and has effective strategies at reducing the severity and duration of an attack. Whilst there are many good preventative measures that can prevent a common cold in the first place, there are others that can reduce the likely complications and duration should you become ill.

To prevent a common cold in the first place

  1. Stay healthy – sounds obvious doesn’t it? Adequate exercise, rest and nourishing foods maintain a healthy immune system. Vitamins such as VitC and Vitamin D and Zinc are useful at this time of year as are herbal formulas designed to boost the immune system. Excess sugar and junk food at this time of year is a recipe for poor immune function.
  2. Maintaining core body temperature is key – The old adage of ‘catching a chill’ isn’t too far from what actually happens. In Chinese medicine, colds are thought to be invasions of pathogenic wind. Rather than a result of a heavy night out on the beer and curry, we actually become susceptible to invasion when our immune system is lowered. One method of lowering the activity of the immune system is to drop the core temperature. So whilst going out into a crowded event exposes us to many of the circulating viruses, it generally takes hold in those of us who get a chill to the body or the neck where the many arteries and vessels are easily chilled. SO – KEEP WARM, WEAR A SCARF and DON”T GO OUT WITH WET HAIR!
  3. Recognise the early signs and act fast – this is probably the most important aspect of preventing colds. If you spot the very first signs and act fast, there is a good chance you won’t come down with the cold that is threatening.  First signs of a cold are:
  • Detecting a slight tickle in the back of the throat
  • Feeling chilled and shivery
  • A tight and stiff neck and shoulders following a chill

So…WHAT TO DO?

If you do find yourself chilled with a tickle in the back of the throat the aim is to quickly warm the body and ideally sweat a little to open the pores.

  • SCALLION AND GINGER drink. This simple remedy has warded off many a cold for me. Take 3-4 spring onions, chop into small lengths. Put into a saucepan with 1 cup water. Add 3-4 good slices of FRESH ginger and bring to the boil. Continue to simmer for 5-7 minutes with the lid on. Pour liquid into a cup and drink as hot as possible once it has cooled a little. You’ll know it’s having the desired effect if it brings on a slight sweat. It can sometimes help to have a little rice or porridge at the same time. Some people swear by the effects of a hot toddy of brandy or whiskey to warm the insides too. More than one can actually lower peripheral temperature so stick to one.
  • Jump in a hot shower or bath and warm the core. Directing a steaming hot shower onto the base of the neck on the spine (C7/T1) can often bring about a shiver as the cold is expelled.
  • High dose Vitamin C can give an immediate boost. I normally take at least 3000 – 4000mg VitC per day when a cold is threatening. One fizzy tablet is normally 1000mg. You can’t really overdose on VitC. If you’ve had too much it will simply loosen the bowels a little as the excess simply passes through.
  • Zinc has been shown to help prevent replication of the virus so it’s vitally important too.
  • Stop and rest. Have a hot bath with some espom salts or hot shower (see above) and wrap up warm and go to bed and get as much sleep as possible. Get that early night that you clearly need.
  • Often this will be sufficient to ward off a cold. HOWEVER, your immune system is still fighting to keep you from coming down with it so be sensible and eat well and rest well.

WHAT NOT TO DO?

  • Try to AVOID cold and flu preparations that contain paracetamol. These are often taken at the first sign of a cold and can be useful to counteract the worst symptoms of a heavy cold or flu such as muscle aches and headache. However, they do nothing to lessn or reduce the severity or progression of a cold and some research has suggested that they in fact increase the viral shedding so potentially make you more contagious to others. They also reduce the body temperature which is counter productive to fighting off a virus.
  • Try to avoid decongestants that strongly dry mucous and can lead to congested stubborn mucous

If you do come down with a cold

Once a cold has taken hold there really isn’t much you can do apart from look after yourself to shorten the duration. VitC and Echinacea can help the immune system at this time. Over the counter medications are of little or no use and many contain paracetamol and/sugar which are both hampering to the immune system. Most of the cough medicines that are available from pharmacies are of little use.

  • Stay warm and get plenty of rest. Stop and recover is something we tend not to do when we lead hectic, busy lives.
  • Try to avoid sugar, dairy and processed foods as much as possible. These foods can increase the production of phlegm which can make a cold misery for everyone. SUGAR also is known to depress the immune system function.
  • Eat well and drink plenty of warm fluids – this is essential to keep phlegm thin and movable. Ginger tea is excellent for this, it gently warms the lungs and helps disperse phlegm and fluids that collect in the lungs.
  • If a phlegmy cough develops pay attention to the colour of the mucous. Copious white or clear phlegm is signs of a cold condition and warming strategies are useful. When it starts to turn dark yellow or green it has flipped to a heat condition characteristic of bacterial infection. This is normal for most colds in the resolution phase but should it continue there can be a risk from bronchitis or chest infection. Antibiotics are often prescribed but should only be taken in extreme cases. Chinese herbal formulas can be prescribed specifically targeting the various types of residual cough (i.e dry, phlegmy, congestive, etc) and can help to clear these types of infections even in cases where antibiotics have failed.

When to call for help?

Acupuncture and herbal medicine can help in all aspects of the common cold however most people recover within 5-7 days with no real need of intervention. However, if a cold lingers on past 1 week or a persistent cough continues past 10 days, it’s time to give the clinic a call and get some treatment to kick it into touch.
This time of year tends to see a lot of DRY lingering coughs following on from colds – more on that in the next newsletter.

Regular acupuncture can act as a great preventative measure as it boosts the immune system and minimises the negative effects of stress that can often give a cold a foothold.