January is, without a doubt, peak cold season.
At the moment it is hard to find a group of people who can stay silent for any longer than a few seconds without breaking into a chorus of coughing and hacking, punctuated by the occasional nose blow reminiscent of a large cruise liner docking. A lot of people start off with a cold and then it hits their chest, becomes infected and they end up on antibiotics for a chest infection, or worse.
Medical science has not yet found a cure, so it is back to the herbal remedy cupboard to find some soothing assistance for this annual misery. I have to say, I find having a cold in the winter, easier to deal with than a cold in the summer, and that is partly due to the fact that a lot of the remedies suggested are quite comforting when it is cold, damp or even snowy outside. Less so when it is hot, dry and sunny.
So, what happens when you are infected with the common cold virus? Your body reacts to the foreign invader, and it starts to create thick mucus to stop the virus in its tracks. Often, the mucus will drip down the back of your throat (also known as post nasal drip) and that can lead to a sore throat, and is one way in which the cold moves onto your chest. (I apologise if you are eating while reading this… not pleasant imagery!) The other way is that the virus just goes to the lungs and the mucus is created there in an effort to cease the invasion, making it difficult and very unpleasant to breathe as well as causing those trademark coughs.
The first key thing is to keep warm and introduce heat to the body. Hot water bottles, cups of tea and the old standard of chicken soup are all great for this. Being wrapped up in a big old quilt also works a treat. The extra warmth loosens mucus and makes it easier to cough up and get rid of. This is the key to recovery from a cold. You have got to get rid of that mucus, and with it, as much of the virus as you can.
Another way to make the mucus easier to get rid of is to stay hydrated. The more hydrated you are, the thinner the mucus is and the easier it is to get rid of. You need to limit drinks with caffeine and alcohol because they are diruetics. Water is perfect, though I would suggest using warm water or room temperature water. I think most of us have experienced the coughs if you drink very cold water after being warm. This reaction would be even more pronounced if you already have a mucus issue.
If you are blowing your nose regularly, and you should be – not just after you sneeze but also after you cough, every time – then we all know the “Rudolph” look where your nose becomes red and angry and chapped and sore. Frankly, it is miserable. Petroleum jelly is a good thing to put on the chap, or you can use an unscented face cream. Obviously you could use balm tissues as well, which will take longer to produce the redness, but I also find that using toilet paper instead of tissues is really good as well.
If you have a sore throat as well as the mucus, then a warm salt water gargle will work a treat. 1 teaspoon of salt in a small glass of water, then toss it back in your throat, but prevent yourself from swallowing it. Salty water is NOT a good thing to swallow. This was a common remedy in our household when I was growing up, and frankly it used to make me feel nauseous in the extreme, but it did help.
Obviously, prevention is always better than cure, and to try and stop getting it, you can use supplements of Vitamin C, Zinc or Echinacea. Zinc can suppress the immune system if you use it consistently over a long period of time, so you need to take it for 2 weeks, rest for 2 weeks and repeat. Also, eating a balanced diet will help build your immune system and may even prevent you from getting a cold in the first place.
You can also do our part in preventing the spread of the misery. If you are feeling rough, then stay at home. Once you are better, I suggest steam cleaning the house and surfaces you might have touched after coughing or sneezing. That way if one person gets it, it is not inevitable that the entire household gets it. In addition, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue for preference, but if you do use your hand, then use antibacterial hand gel straight after. Wash your hands often and always dispose of your tissues appropriately. In a bin, which is regularly emptied is better than just leaving them lying about.
Recovery from a cold is really the application of common sense, and I hope, if you are currently suffering, you make a swift recovery.