Someone out in the hall is blowing her nose, and the girl behind you is barely stifling a cough. It's cold season, and all around you people are dropping like flies. But you really don't want to get sick! You've got this big project coming up, and then there's that dance on Saturday...
Well, colds do spread, but that doesn't mean you need to give one an open invitation. There are
some natural things you can do to keep a cold at bay—or to shorten its stay if it insists on moving in. back to top
The signs are all there: it's cold season. Your first defense is common sense. Here are two things to remember:
At the first sniffle
- One hand washes the other. Your mother has probably told you a million times, but it really is true: cold germs spread from hand to hand—and from doorknob to hand, telephone to hand, and so on. While you can't avoid touching doorknobs and phones—or even hands—you can avoid giving cold germs a free ride to your face. When coughs and sneezes are in the air, try to wash your hands more often than usual and keep them away from your face.
- Rest and de-stress. Okay, your mom probably nags you about this, too. And again, research is on her side: you are more likely to get sick when you don't get enough sleep or when you're under a lot of stress. When everyone around you is catching a cold, it's a good time for you to catch some zzzzz's. Better that you miss one activity today and get a good night's sleep than get sick and miss an entire week of school. back to top
Uh-oh—could that be a tickle in your throat? Did your nose just start running? Don't give in yet—it's time to call in the reserves. You may want to keep some supplies in your "natural medicine chest" for just such a situation. They need to be called to duty at the very first
sign of a cold—so be on guard! back to top
When a cold catches you
- Root for echinacea. This beautiful wildflower was once used by Native Americans to treat everything from snakebites to toothaches. Today, echinacea products can be found on the "cold remedies" shelf of health-food stores and pharmacies. Studies suggest that this herb, which acts to boost the immune system, may help fight off or shorten a cold when taken at the first sign of symptoms (and then stopped after those symptoms go away).
- Go for the garlic. Okay, we're not sure whether garlic can ward off vampires. But research suggests that the same chemicals that make this herb smelly may be the weapon that helps it chase away viruses. (Of course, it could chase away your friends, too!) Some health experts swear that eating a couple of raw garlic cloves at the first sign of a cold helps chase the sniffles away.
- Think about zinc. Can zinc lozenges cut your cold short? It depends on who you ask. Some studies say zinc lozenges can shorten the length of a cold by as much as three days, if you take them shortly after symptoms start. Other studies say they don't work any better than a placebo pill. If you want to give zinc lozenges a try, look for the "zinc acetate" kind and don't take them for more than three days—they pack a hefty dose of zinc, and too much can be dangerous to your health. Be aware, too, that zinc lozenges don't taste too great and may upset your stomach (it's best to take them after meals). back to top
Okay, you've put up a good fight. But maybe this cold looks like it's going to hang out for a while. To prevent it from really
overstaying its welcome, you need to slow down and take care of yourself. Here are some suggestions:
Soothing a sore throat
- Call in the chicken soup. At least one study shows that this old folk remedy really can work magic on colds—especially when it's served with lots of love. But if you're a vegetarian, or if chicken soup doesn't turn you on, vegetable soup can also offer healthy nutrients while steaming your stuffy sinuses and warming your scratchy throat.
- Drown your sorrows. Drinking plenty of warm liquids when you're stuffy helps keep your tender sinuses moist. They also get the excess mucus that's making you miserable to move out of your body. Sip as much water, juice, and herbal tea as you possibly can. One warm beverage that may have healing properties is gingertea. You can buy ginger teabags at many grocery stores, but they don't pack much of a punch. If you're up for it, it's worth making your own: just grate a two-inch piece of ginger root (more if you like it strong) and simmer it in a covered pot with four cups of water for at least 15 minutes. Strain out the ginger and let the tea cool a bit. Ginger tea has a strong, sharp flavor—add honey and lemon to make it taste better.
- Consider vitamin C. Most experts agree that supplementing with vitamin C probably won't keep a cold away, but it may lessen and shorten its symptoms. If you want to give vitamin C a shot, try taking 250 mg twice a day when you already have a cold (any more than that will just come out in your urine). Some experts recommend taking 1 gram (that's four 250 mg pills) once at the very first sign of a cold. You can also make it a point to squeeze lemon juice into your tea and make citrus juices part of your liquid regimen. back to top
Ouch! It hurts when you swallow. You may be tempted not
to swallow too often, but of course that will only make the situation worse. Here are some simple solutions that may ease the irritation and help your throat heal:
Un-stuffing your sinuses
- Swallow some slippery elm. They don't call this herb "slippery" for nothing. Made from the inner bark of a North American tree, slippery elm is a substance used by opera singers to soothe and coat their tender throats. You can find slippery elm in lozenges and herbal teas made specifically for coating your throat. It's safe to use slippery elm as often as you wish.
- Pass the salt, please. Yes, it tastes nasty, but gargling gently with warm salt water is an old home remedy that helps flush away irritating mucus that drains into your throat. It also helps reduce swelling and soreness. To make a saltwater solution, dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of salt in 4 ounces of warm water. You can gargle with saltwater several times a day. back to top
You really know you have a "code" when your sinuses are so stuffy you've started "dalking like dis." It may be time to turn up the heat—the moist
heat, that is—and look for a solution worth its salt.
- Get all hot and steamy. If you have a vaporizer, now's the time to use it. Another tried-and-true method for easing inflamed nasal passages is a simple pot of steaming water—especially if you toss in certain herbs, such as eucalyptus, sage, or peppermint. These herbs can help lessen congestion and reduce swelling.
Try adding a two or three drops of essential oil (you can find them in health-food stores) to a pot full of water, then heat the water to boiling. Remove the pot from the stove and place a towel over your head to form a kind of tent. Breathe in the fragrant steam for a few minutes, being careful not to touch the pot. You can also use fresh or dried herbs. Make sure you throw in the handful of herbs just before you're about to lean over the pot, so that they release their healing oils into your sinuses and not into the room.
- Squeeze in a saline solution. Another gentle way to soothe your sinuses is to squirt them with some saltwater—a solution that moistens and promotes healing in your nasal passages the same way it does in your throat. You can buy over-the-counter nasal sprays for this purpose (make sure they contain only saltwater) or make your own by dissolving 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of lukewarm water.
- Spice it up. Have you ever eaten something so spicy it made your nose run? Some people find that eating spicy foods such as horseradish, dry mustard, wasabi (Japanese horseradish), or cayenne pepper when they're all stuffed up can help clear out their sinuses and let them breathe easier. Be careful not to touch your eyes after using these hot spices because they could make them burn and sting.
With all the miracles modern science has given us, a cure for the common cold has never been found. When it comes down to it, perhaps the best advice is to grab a favorite video and grandma's quilt, rest, and wait it out. back to top