Like the changing of the leaves and the arrival of the rain, you can always count on at least one good-for-nothing, lay-you-on-your-back cold a season (at least I can). It arrived this week as an earache, and wasted no time invading my chest and causing all kinds of grief. So, aside from complaining, I wondered what I could do to shorten the stay of my respiratory intruder. Thankfully we have a lot of titles on the shelf that I could turn to for suggestions.
According to Doctor Chopra Says: Medical Facts & Myths Everyone Should Know, I am pretty much out of luck no matter what I try. This isn’t a promising start. According to Dr. Chopra, studies have discredited popular preventatives, such as echinacea, zinc, and vitamin c. To my surprise, antibiotics also seem to be worthless in treating colds, but may be prescribed to prevent secondary infections to individuals who are at a high risk for them.
So what does work? First and foremost, washing your hands regularly is one of the best ways to prevent catching a cold. Thank you, Dr. Chopra, for outing me as an unclean person. It also doesn’t hurt to get a proper amount of sleep at night and to avoid crowds during cold season. Perhaps if I were a well-rested demophobic I would be feeling better right now, but the life of a librarian is full of people and their occasional sniffles. One positive note in this book is that the jury is still out on the efficacy of good old chicken soup. I know that isn’t a ringing endorsement, but it’s nice to know that one of my favorite sick-time comfort foods hasn’t been completely debunked.
Adding on to the ‘what not to do’ list, Medicine for the Outdoors: The Essential Guide to First Aid and Medical Emergencies, has some really helpful hints for our outdoorsy readers (sorry, this won’t be good news). Author Paul S. Auerbach, MD, preaches the gospel of common sense, recommending lots of rest, hydration, and staying warm and dry. Sadly this means that weekend plans for tarp camping or backpacking into remote and snowy campgrounds are probably out. Auerbach also strongly recommends against folk wisdom that sweating out a cold through exercise is a good idea – this could lead to dehydration, or worse, pneumonia. So, if you’re feeling as bad as I am right now, stash your backpack back in your gear closet, hang up your mummy bag, and climb back into bed.
Upon learning that winter camping and all-night parties are probably out, the hippie foodie in me wanted to see if there was any wisdom in feeding my cold, as some have suggested. After taking a quick tour of the 615s, I learned that the Everett Public Library had a pretty respectable collection of books on medicinal herbs and traditional remedies. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, by Michael Moore (no, not that Michael Moore) had entries on many basic cold-care topics, including expectorants, respiratory system care, and treating throat inflammation. According to this book, licorice can do just about everything for me, so I should probably continue drinking the licorice spice herbal tea I bought the other day.
Healthy Herbs: Your Everyday Guide to Medicinal Herbs and their Use, by Linda Woolven, M.H., C.Ac. & Ted Snider, recommends a long list of plant remedies for the common cold. Anise, Asian ginseng, chamomile, catnip, garlic, oregano, peppermint, shiitake mushroom, and red clover, caught my eye. I’m not sure if this list makes me want to brew a curative tea, or prepare a revitalizing pasta sauce.
I found some good do’s and don’t’s in The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods, by James A. Duke, PhD. On the list of things to consume: chicken soup, citrus fruits, elderberries, garlic, onions, leeks, ginger, and honey get ringing endorsements. The list of things to not consume is much shorter: anything with too much caffeine is out because it can dehydrate you; the same thing applies to alcohol. If you’re going to try the Hot Toddy treatment, keep it to a two drink maximum and drink lots of water.
Finally, If you can’t beat your cold, you might as well learn something about it!
Ah-Choo! The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, by Jennifer Ackerman, takes readers through the causes of the common cold, popular misconceptions about how to treat one, and even details about the massively profitable cold treatment industry that relies on these darned things being so annoying and so incurable to thrive.
In the end, I think the lesson I learned from my research into cold cures is that there isn’t one. Listen to what your mother has probably always told you: wash your hands if you don’t want to get sick. If you do wind up falling victim, fall into bed and stay there for a while. Hydrate and pamper yourself with whatever makes you feel most comfortable – including drinking hot tea with honey, sipping warm brothy soups, and applying warm compresses if your chest is sore from coughing. Most importantly, if your cold is stubborn enough to stick around for more than a couple of days, or if you find yourself getting worse than just light coughing and sniffles, put down all those herbal remedy books you just checked out and see your doctor.
Get well soon!