Is it a cold or is it the flu?

The common cold and flu are both contagious viral infections of the respiratory tract. Although the symptoms can be similar, the flu is much more severe and comes on very quickly. A cold may drag you down a bit, but the flu can make you shudder at the very thought of getting out of bed.

Cold Symptoms:  runny/stuffy nose; sore throat; sneezing; mild to moderate fever; cough; headache and/or body aches; mild tiredness

A cold may last as long as long as two weeks.

According to Cesar Arias, MD, associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston you are most contagious during the day before the symptoms start and during the first two days you feel sick. Also, the cold virus can live outside the body for up to seven days.

Flu symptoms:  dry, hacking cough; moderate to high fever (though some people do not get fevers); sore throat; chills; severe muscle or body aches; headache; runny/stuffy nose; profound fatigue

A bout of the flu typically lasts one to two weeks.

According to the CDC you are most contagious the day before the symptoms develop and as many as 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. And the flu virus can live outside the body up to 48 hours.

The flu is more likely to progress into another serious illness such as pneumonia so pay attention to how you are feeling.

Oh no, I’m sick! What do I do?

Keep the virus from spreading by staying home. Use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth when you have to cough or sneeze. Throw away used tissues promptly. And wash your hands frequently. Avoid close contact with others for as long as you have symptoms.

Rest and plenty of fluids are the best treatments for viruses.

Avoid sniffling as much as possible so that mucus is not drawn back into your head. Instead blow your nose gently by pressing one nostril shut with your finger while blowing very gently to clear the other. Repeat on the opposite side. Then wash your hands after disposing of your tissue.

Drink honey and lemon tea. This is a simple yet effective cold relief remedy that has been around for a long time. Research shows that both honey and lemon have significant ability to inhibit the growth of microbes that can cause infection. In addition, studies have found honey to be an effective cough suppressant and sleep aid during a cold, especially in children.

To make honey and lemon tea, boil some water, pour it into a mug, stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice and two teaspoons of honey. The honey will help soothe your sore throat, while the lemon helps to clear up a blocked nose. The vitamin C is also good for fighting infections generally.

Eat chicken soup. The heat, salt, and hydration provided by chicken soup may actually fight the cold virus. Laboratory studies have shown that ingredients in a chicken soup with vegetables could kill viral cells and prevent the growth of new ones. The soup may also provide an anti-inflammatory effect in the upper respiratory tract that helps soothe symptoms.

To relieve congestion, Eucalyptus essential oil can be used by placing a few drops on a handkerchief and holding it by your nose or adding 10 to 15 drops to a vaporizer. You can also add a few drops to a bowl of steaming water, lean over and place a towel covering your head and the bowl, and breathe in the eucalyptus steam.  When diluted with olive oil, eucalyptus oil makes a soothing chest rub for congestion and mucus buildup.

Take Elderberry Extract. Sambucol, an elderberry extract from Israel has been shown effective at inactivating viruses. It is a powerful antioxidant that stimulates the immune system by increasing production of disease-fighting lymphocytes. It comes in liquid syrup or lozenge form. The recommended dosages of Sambucol are:

  • Children under 1 year old: 2 teaspoons daily
  • Children 1-6 years old: 1 or 2 Tablespoons or 2 lozenges daily
  • Children 6-12 years old: 2-3 Tablespoons or lozenges daily
  • Children over 12 and adults: 4 Tablespoons or lozenges daily

Take the recommended dosage at the first sign of illness. Since Sambucol is slightly acidic, it should be taken following meals to avoid stomach upset.

For relief from the flu, try Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic preparation marketed by Boiron . The only supportive scientific evidence comes from Boiron Labs. That said, anecdotal evidence, including use by my family over the years, suggests that this remedy can be very helpful in reducing the severity and duration of flu symptoms.

Use a neti pot or squeeze bottle to irrigate blocked sinuses.

From a reader: “Thanks as usual for your terrific acupuncture newsletter. I wanted to offer an addition to the neti pot recommendations: I’ve been adding a product called Alkalol to the saline solution I use, and I highly recommend it. Neti pot with saline alone wasn’t effective in unblocking my sinuses, but I haven’t had a sinus infection since I started adding the Alkalol. I don’t use it as directed – I add it to the saline (making a much weaker solution). Ingredients are:  Alkalol is a unique blend of naturally antiseptic ingredients, including: Purified Water (USP); Menthol; Eucalyptol; Thymol; Camphor; Benzoin; Oils of Wintergreen, Spearmint, Pine, and Cinnamon; Potassium Alum; Potassium Chlorate; Sodium Bicarbonate; Sodium Chloride; Alcohol (2/100 of 1%); Caramel Color. Alkalol is preservative free.”

If you have a mild fever-below 100°F-don’t reach for a fever reducer unless you’re in a high-risk category; fever is your body’s way of fighting off the infection.

See a doctor if you have signs of pneumonia, including: trouble breathing; severe sore throat; cough that produces green mucus; high, persistent fever; chest discomfort

Monitor children closely, and seek prompt medical treatment if they develop the following  symptoms:   labored breathing; irritability; lethargy; refusal to eat or drink; trouble awaking or  interacting

Acupuncture can help boost your immune system. I am happy to schedule a complementary consult or to answer any questions you may have.