Welcome to 2015! This year, rather than focusing on resolutions and personal development (I get the feeling you have enough of that in your inboxes already; I know I do!), we're getting practical. While I hope that you all made it through airports and planes, crowded stores, parties, and family gatherings as healthy as can be, I'm sure that some of you (/us!) are sitting next to a box of tissues.
I'll start with some tips to keep you healthy, and then dive-in to the real stuff: what to do to make you feel as good as possible as soon as possible. Read on for everything from neti pots to wet sock treatments to your grandmother's chicken soup.
If you are still healthy, I have a few straightforward reminders for you:
1. Wash your hands. You know this. Your 3-yr-old nephew knows this. We all know this. And yet, we don't do it often enough (or well enough). During the cold and flu season especially, make it a habit to wash your hands every time you go to the bathroom, before you eat anything, the moment you get home from a public place, and ideally any time you touch a public surface (door knobs, stair banisters, the remote control...). Wait for the water to get warm, use soap, wash between your fingers and up to your wrists, and do it long enough to get through the birthday song or jingle bells in your head (or out loud, if you're feeling cheery).
2. Use an air humidifier. Dry sinuses are more prone to infection. Your skin will appreciate this, too. Just be sure you keep the humidifier clean, as mold and fungus can build up and counteract the good.
3. Sleep. I'm pretty sure this ends up on every recommendation list for everything. Be sure to get enough sleep, and practice self care and stress management. If you're working too hard, your body will demand rest - even if it has to make you sick to do it.
4. Consider supplements, especially if you're around people who are sick fairly often. Probiotics, elderberry, zinc, vitamin d3, echinacea, and vitamin c can all help you stay well. (The research on these varies, but I take probiotics, d3, and zinc regularly.)
If you're already sick (cold, flu, sinus infection...), or getting there:
1. Be nice to yourself. Remember that getting a cold or the flu doesn't mean you failed as a healthy person. It happens sometimes, no matter how much broccoli you eat.
2. GET A NETIPOT. My extended family had colds over the holidays and we had a netipot introduction party (see photo above). A netipot is a plastic or ceramic pot that looks like a genie lamp, and you use it to flush our your sinuses with salt water. They cost between $10 and $20 and you can get one at your local drug store in the cold and flu aisle (they're reusable). All you have to do is buy distilled water or boil water and let it cool to room temperature (to be sure the water is clean). Add 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp baking soda (or use the packets that came with your pot). Lean over the sink, tilt your head to the side, and gently pour the water up one side of your nose. If you aren't too stuffed up, the water will run out the other side. Repeat on the other side. Use your netipot every day you have any congestion, runny nose, sore throat, headache, etc. By keeping your sinuses from drying out and thinning the mucous, regular use can make a cold or the flu a much less miserable experience. I've found that even when it doesn't clear up the congestion (though it usually does for at least a few hours), it keeps drainage from going down my throat and leaves me free from sore throats and coughs.
3. Drink tea. Staying hydrated is especially important when you're sick. Drink water or even better, hot herbal tea. Licorice root (I like Egyptian Licorice) is great for a sore throat, green tea (if you aren't too sensitive to caffeine) and ginger tea are classic choices, and pau d'arco is effective and not too sweet.
4. Take a hot bath and consider trying a wet sock treatment. Hydrotherapy (water treatments) are often used in naturopathic medicine (as well as common sense, grandmother-recommended medicine). There isn't, strictly speaking, evidence to support the wet-sock treatment, but it's harmless, free, easy, felt rather nice, and I'd say it's definitely worth trying. All you do is take a nice hot soak in the tub (add epson salts if you're feeling achy!) while you soak a pair of cotton socks in a bowl of ice water. Right after you get out of the tub, put on nice warm pajamas, wring out your socks, and put them on (it's only cold for a moment). Put a dry pair of wool socks on over top of your cold wet cotton ones, and get right under the covers for bed. By morning your socks will be completely dry, and hopefully you'll feel better. If you try it and it works (or doesn't), please let me know! You can read more about it here.
5. Avoid alcohol and sugar, and add in chicken and/or bone broth. This is pretty self-explanatory. If you'd like to read more about why chicken soup really is good for you when you're sick, check out this NY Times article.
6. Do not take fever suppressants. A fever is your body's way of fighting an infection, and it's effective. As long as your fever doesn't reach dangerously high temperatures (for adults, that's at or over 103 degrees F), let it run its course.
7. Try honey for a temporary sore throat quick-fix. Just a spoonful of honey will coat your throat and give you a little bit of talk time.
8. Do not take antibiotics unless you have a serious infection. The cold and flu are actually viruses, and antibiotics won't touch them. They will, however, make it harder for your immune system to deal with the virus.
9. Blow your nose often, but gently, and with good tissues. Toilet paper and scratchy tissues are not nose-friendly. Splurge on the lotion tissues and your face will thank you for it. When you blow, don't blow too hard - it can mess with the pressure in your head and ears and actually make you feel worse.
10. Keep chapstick, Vick's Vaporub, and an extra pillow handy. Breathing out of your mouth can make for very dry lips and gums. Try sleeping with an extra pillow to make nose breathing easier, and keep your lips moisturized (licking them doesn't count). Vick's is basically essential oils that help open your nasal passages, and can help (or at the very least, feel quite nice) when you rub it on your chest, neck, and right under your nose.
Leave a comment if you have any at-home remedies you'd recommend! If you're sick, I hope you get well soon.