This is a risky post & title. This is a blog, not a text-book, so it is impossible to thoroughly exhaust all information on any topic here. And no matter what I say, there will be some entity somewhere with an opposing view. With those facts accepted, I will briefly dive into the subject of treating the Flu and the common cold.
First off, “Flu” is a respiratory illness. If the primary symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, your illness is NOT the FLU. I will deal with gastro-intestinal illnesses in another post. Having a cold and having the flu differ only slightly, if at all. In general, the Flu develops symptoms more rapidly than a cold, may have a higher fever than a cold, and may result in symptoms of greater severity and/or longer duration. Notice the generalizations here? That’s because it is impossible to specifically differentiate a cold from the flu unless a genetic test is done on your nasal secretions.
That genetic testing begs the question of “how is this going to alter or improve my treatment?” And if the answer is “It’s not”; then why do it? Who benefits? The only patient population who truly benefit from early and definitive identification of the flu are, in my opinion, those who have underlying heart or lung disease, poor mobility, or compromised immune systems. If begun within 48 hours of the earliest onset of symptoms (that scratchy little hint in your throat that something’s starting) the drug Tamiflu may help reduce or shorten symptoms. That reduction may help those who are unable to withstand severe symptoms, and in some cases will make the difference between surviving or dying. But Tamiflu, like any chemical, is not without its risks. For those who are able to symptomatically support their body while letting their immune system simply do its job, the risks of Tamiflu outweigh its benefits. Thus for most of the population, that expensive ER visit with the expensive Flu Swab is of no benefit to the patient at all. Who benefits? That’s something I’m going to leave open to reader commentary!
So what really works for dealing with that nasty milieu of nasal exudate and coughing and pain? If you “Google it” you will find some short lists that leave you at the mercy of decongestants and analgesics/antipyretics such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Others will list herbs and a wide variety of home remedies. It is not my purpose to exhaustively address these but rather to give guidelines for helping you decide what you wish to do. Here’s the list:
1. Mucous is good, and getting it out is healing. Blood serum is bringing white blood cells to kill off the virus and get rid of it. The mucous production is part of healing, and getting rid of it carries the disease-causing agent out of your body. Get it out! Don’t snort it back, swallow it, suppress it, or dry it. Mucous is a source of contagion: wash your hands every time you deal with it.
2. Thin mucous moves better than thick mucous. Oral hydration is the key to keeping mucous thinned out. Water is a better mucolytic than guaifenesin which you will find in almost all the over-the-counter cough medicines. Drink lots and lots of clear fluids such as water, tea, and chicken broth. Beer is a clear fluid but it doesn’t help. Alcohol sends more fluid out by way of the kidneys leaving less for your body to put into the mucous. (Nasal mucous too thick to drain? Try a neti pot with sterile saline solution. Do your research before you do this! I haven’t space to detail it here.)
3. Avoid antihistamines. They indeed will help dry up those watery eyes and sneezy nose, but in doing so they are likely to lengthen the duration of your illness. Some folks have jobs and responsibilities which are more demanding of presence: if such is your case you will need to decide if reducing symptoms temporarily so that you can be present is worth the longer duration of your illness. That is up to you. In no case would I recommend antihistamines for children: the cardiac risks just aren’t worth it. If you want to use them, by all means obey the precautions on the box.
4. Fever is good. If you have chills, cover up. When you feel hot, take the covers off. Chills are part the body’s mechanism of driving up the temperature. In the absence of neurological diseases or the neurological immaturity of the neonate, the human brain will regulate the body temperature to a point no higher than the brain can stand. Fever is your immune system’s way of making your body inhospitable to viral and bacterial reproduction. For reasons of comfort you may decide to take something for the fever and associated aches, perhaps so you can get some sleep. But be aware that every time you artificially reduce your temperature you are helping the illness-causing agent to reproduce more and more copies of itself and attack you all the more.
5. For the sneezy nose: get outdoors! Fresh air is a friend to your airways. Feeling stuffy? Take a steamy shower, and then get outside. Enough said.
Caveat and disclaimer: There are an awful lot of potential pitfalls in dealing with respiratory illness. This post is specifically limited, and does not include everything. Children have smaller airways and are more prone to difficulty than adults. In any case, if someone of any age is having labored breathing such as using the accessory muscles of the chest to suck in air, take them to a doctor promptly! This post is neither designed nor intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor and should not obscure your accessing of medical care when needed.
More details will be included in my upcoming book on self-managed healthcare and the self-care seminars provided by LifeBidder.com.
BE well and enjoy Life to its Fullest.
(I’m going outside to get some fresh air.)