Understanding Cold and Flu Options
By Decker Weiss, NMD.
The common cold is the leading reason children and adults stay home sick from school or work, according to the National Institutes of Health. Its estimated that one billion colds are caught and spread in the U.S. every year.1 During influenza season, 35 to 50 million Americans get the flu. Flu outbreaks can sweep through entire communities, affecting up to half the population. For certain people (the elderly, newborns, and people with chronic illnesses) the flu can cause serious and even life-threatening complications.
Cold and Flu Can Be Difficult to Eliminate
Viruses are extremely difficult to study. To reverse a cold, a remedy would need to kill any one of the 200 different viruses. Flu viruses continually evolve and mutate from season to season.1,2 So far, no one has succeeded at finding the magic formula for a safe cold or flu cure.
The best research has been able to offer is the development of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to treat cold and flu symptoms. However, there is some consensus that treating the symptoms of colds and flu infections may actually prolong the duration of the disease and prolong the misery.1,2 In addition, some potentially serious side effects have been associated with the use of OTC cold and flu medications.8,9
Side effects Associated With OTC medications
A variety of OTC products are available. Decongestants temporarily dry up runny noses, stop sneezing, and relieve watery eyes.
Acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen reduce body aches. Aspirin and ibuprofen bring down fevers.1,2
All these medications can cause side effects. Aspirin and ibuprofen can cause gastrointestinal upset.10,11 Additionally, aspirin should never be given to children and adolescents with colds or the flu. Several studies have linked the use of aspirin to the development of Reyes syndrome, a rare and potentially fatal illness.1,2
Taking acetaminophen over an extended length of time can cause liver and kidney damage so the daily dose should be limited to no more than four grams.12,13 Decongestants can cause high blood pressure, heart palpitations, urinary retention, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, anxiety, tremors, and insomnia.14 Decongestant use can alter the normal tissue of the nose and actually increase the duration of nasal congestion.15,16
However, suffering with an untreated cold or the flu can be very distressing and quite uncomfortable.
Supplementing with elderberry during the flu may reduce its symptoms.41 Elderberry is an herb that causes an increase in viral antibodies. While elderberry is available as an individual supplement, it is also frequently combined with other vitamins, minerals, glandular extracts, or herbs for maximum cold and flu symptom relief.
If you also have an irritated throat, English ivy extract has been shown to provide natural and effective relief. English ivy soothes and quiets coughs due to colds and flu without the side effects often found in some products containing synthetic ingredients.42-44
Getting lots of rest and drinking lots of fluids (a minimum of 64 ounces of water and juice a day) are also very important. Drinking hot beverages such as tea and eating chicken soup are not only comforting, but they can open up stuffy noses. Gargling with salt water may help reduce painful sore throats.1,2
Individuals should seek care from a licensed health care practitioner if they have a fever that:
- lasts longer than three days
- coughing up yellow-green mucus, or have chest pain that occurs with breathing.
These symptoms may signal more serious conditions.1,2
With colds and flu, "an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of c u r e." Frequent hand washing and sneezing into facial tissues (that are promptly thrown away) are the easiest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of colds and flu.1,2
1. The Common Cold. National Institutes of Health Web site. Available at: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/
Accessed on April 30, 2001.
2. Flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/
diseases/flu/fluinfo.htm. Accessed April 30, 2001.
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5. Henneicke-von Zepelin HH, Hentschel C, Schnitker J, Kohnen R, Kohler G, Wustenberg P. Efficacy and safety of a fixed combination phytomedicine in the treatment of the common cold (acute viral respiratory tract infection): results of a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre study. Current Medical Research Opinion. 1999;15:214-227.
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41. Zakay-Jones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L) during an outbreak of influenza B PanamJournal of Alternative Complementary Medicine. 1995;1:361-369.
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Author Decker Weiss is a licensed naturopathic medical doctor in the state of Arizona.
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