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It is that time of the year again, when stuffy nose and unbearable cough seem to be everywhere. Experts are already predicting that this year’s flu season will be a tough one and are also reporting a rise in many other respiratory illnesses after two years of relative calm.
The best precaution against influenza infection is getting vaccinated, and once you’re sick there’s little you can do but manage your symptoms. The flu, common cold, and other upper respiratory illnesses are caused by viruses, so you can’t cure them with antibiotics, which are used to treat bacterial infections. antiviral drugs Drugs to treat influenza, such as Tamiflu, are usually reserved for people who have tested positive for the flu and are at risk of developing serious complications, such as those who are pregnant, elderly, or immunocompromised. For everyone else, doctors suggest resting and waiting out your symptoms — which for the flu can include fever, headache, body aches and a stuffy or runny nose lasting three to five days. Some people may also experience cough or sore throat or fatigue, which may last for a while, said Dr. H. Keep Talbot, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The symptoms of the common cold are incredibly similar, which is why people “call everything in winter the flu,” Dr. Talbot said. But cold symptoms are usually slow to develop, milder than what you would experience with the flu, and are unlikely to cause serious health problems. (People with Covid also experience respiratory symptoms; testing is the best way to know which virus you’re most likely to have.)
“There’s a saying that if you treat a cold, it goes away in seven days; if you leave it alone, it goes away in a week,” says Dr. Aviva Romm, a physician who practices integrative medicine. Specializes in medicine.
But for generations, countless home remedies — cups of hot tea or soup and spoonfuls of herbs — have helped manage cold and flu symptoms like a sore throat or congestion. Scientists have spent years trying to find out how effective some of these treatments are, how often they should be used, and which formulations work best. But studies are often small or don’t show much efficacy.
Still, experts acknowledge that there’s no harm in adopting practices that may make you feel better when you’re sick, even if they only provide a placebo effect. (If your symptoms are severe, if you are having difficulty breathing, or if you do not see any improvement after more than a week, you should see a medical professional.)
“Sometimes we don’t have evidence for a lot of common traditional practices because there isn’t much economic value in studying them, but we have thousands of years of anecdotal data and we have enough evidence to prove its safety.” There is evidence,” Dr. Romm said.
Here’s what we know and don’t know about some of the most popular treatments that show at least a little bit of promise.
Strengthening the Immune System: Vitamin C, Elderberry and Zinc
There is some evidence to suggest that certain vitamins and ingredients in home remedies – such as vitamin C, elderberry and zinc – may, at the very least, stimulate the immune system and slightly reduce the duration of your symptoms.
The idea that vitamin C might help with colds isn’t new; It was popularized by Nobel laureate Linus Pauling in the 1970s, which increased the demand for the nutrient. Since then, scientists associated with the supplement industry have suggested that Vitamin C helps support a variety of functionsSuch as the ability of immune cells to find and fight infection.
The effectiveness of nutraceuticals is still debated. For one, the body is not able to store high doses of vitamin C, such as those found in supplements, and any excess vitamin C is usually excreted in your urine. Some clinical trials have found that when you take vitamin C supplements may be important for its effectiveness: A comprehensive meta-analysis of vitamin C trials. published in 2013, for example, suggests that regular supplementation, before you start to feel sick, may shorten the duration of a cold by a day or so. But taking vitamin C after you’ve already developed symptoms hasn’t shown a consistent benefit.
In some studies, elderberry, a common ingredient in cold and flu syrups, especially those intended for young children, reduced duration of symptoms When taken at the beginning of or immediately before an illness. But this is a very limited amount of data, Dr. Romm said. Elderberry contains powerful antioxidants and chemicals known to anthocyaninsWhich have been shown in laboratory experiments to help with immune function.
Similarly, research on zinc suggests that taking syrups and lozenges containing the trace element every three to four hours might shorten the duration of a cold or flu. for a day or two, potentially by preventing the virus from multiplying. Other analyzes have concluded that there is not enough evidence Suffice to say it is better than placebo.
Most of the zinc formulations have many side effects. Some people who have used zinc nasal spray have experienced a permanent loss of smell. People who take it orally may experience a lasting metallic taste in their mouth. “The really important thing is that you should take zinc with food because it can actually cause vomiting,” Dr. Romm said.
Staying hydrated and reducing sore throat: Tea, soup, ginger and turmeric
A sore throat is often the natural result of inflammation when your immune system is fighting a virus lodged in your upper airways. Swelling and pain can make swallowing food and staying hydrated more difficult. This makes your throat even more dry. Cough can make things worse. Staying hydrated by drinking plain water, warm tea, broth, or soup may help you feel more comfortable.
In many cultures, ginger is the first thing people use when they have a sore throat. It is often steeped in boiling water with other herbs to make a soothing tea or added to chicken soup. And, it turns out, there may be some science to support these age-old practices: A handful of studies have found that Ginger may have anti-inflammatory properties Which can help reduce inflammation.
Turmeric root, a plant in the ginger family that is native to Southeast Asia and has long been used in India’s Ayurvedic systems of medicine, may also reduce inflammation, But proving its effectiveness has been challenging because curcumin, the main compound in the root, is not readily absorbed by the body and curcumin supplements can vary greatly in composition. Eating turmeric with food or mixing it with a fatty substance, such as cooking oil or hot milk, may help you absorb more of curcumin’s benefits. being added Black pepper may also aid in its absorptionDr. Romm said.
“Ginger and turmeric together is a really, really good combination,” Dr. When she’s battling a sore throat, Romm said, she makes herself a ginger-turmeric tea.
Cough Control: Salt Water and Honey
If your sore throat is aggravated by coughing, gargling with salt water can be helpful. Add about half a teaspoon of salt to a full glass of warm water and swish it around your mouth and the back of your throat for a few seconds before spitting it out. Any type of salt you have in the house will work.
doctor often recommend Gargling with salt water as a way to reduce pain in your mouth or the back of your throat and improve overall oral health. Gargling helps loosen thick mucus and can also remove irritants like bacteria, viruses, and allergens from your throat. Talbot, an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said using a salt solution offers the added benefit of drawing excess fluid out of inflamed tissue and coating it with warm water.
Adding honey to your gargling solution, or to any tea or hot drink, can have an equally soothing effect. Honey acts as a demulcent, meaning it soothes irritated tissues by coating them.
Many cultures have their own variations of the soothing honey drink. And some research suggests that the remedy works to reduce the frequency of coughs. In fact, a study Children between the ages of 1 and 5 found that taking two teaspoons of honey at bedtime was just as effective at reducing nighttime coughs and improving sleep quality as a drug found in common over-the-counter cough syrups. Dextromethorphan. (Honey should not be given to children under one year old, however, because of the risk of a rare type of food poisoning known as infant botulism.)
Relieving Congestion: Neti Pots, Herbs, and Steam
Keeping your nasal passages moist is another simple, safe remedy that can help children and adults get some relief from the flu or cold. You can achieve this by using a humidifier in your room, inhaling some herbal steam, or by blowing a warm salt water rinse through your nose.
The use of neti pots and nasal irrigation can be traced back thousands of years to Ayurvedic medicine. Like gargling with salt water, nasal lavage can help remove some viruses and mucus from your body, while reducing inflammation that can lead to congestion. a study published in 2019 showed that this procedure can help reduce the duration of illness as well as reducing the potential transmission of germs to others.
You should make sure that you only use distilled, sterile or boiled water to do your rinse, as tap water can contain small amounts of bacteria and protozoa that carry the risk of other infections. Alternatively, you can try a commercial nasal saline spray for a similar effect.
Dr. Fadel Hind, an infectious disease physician at the Mayo Clinic, runs a humidifier in her home during winter flu season. His research showed that keeping the humidity level of the rooms 40 to 60 percent Reduces transmission of respiratory viruses and may even prevent you from getting sick. “At that humidity, you find smaller numbers of viruses on surfaces and in the air. And the virus that is present is less viable,” he said.
Dr. Hind said that some humidifiers have built-in sensors that can tell you the humidity level in a room. If yours doesn’t, you can buy a basic hygrometer for $10 or less to monitor the water vapor in the air around you and test the performance of a humidifier you already own.
If you get a cold or flu, a humidifier may still help reduce cough and congestion, although how well it works compared to a placebo or whether it can shorten the overall length of your illness is unknown. Yes, there is less data on this, Dr. Hind said.
Menthol, a chemical found in peppermint and other mint plants, can also provide a sensation of easier breathing. You can apply a store-bought menthol ointment, such as Vicks VapoRub, under your nose or on your neck and throat to relieve symptoms. Some people also use fresh or dried herbs in traditional steam therapy to relieve congestion. You can do this by steeping herbs like eucalyptus or thyme in boiling water for five to 10 minutes, then covering your head with a towel and inhaling the steam (be careful with hot water). Alternatively, you can hang the dried leaves in a steamy shower to get some of these benefits.
Some studies have found that a vapor rub containing menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor, when applied to the neck and chest, significantly sleep better in children and adults with cold symptoms, but experts warn that it can be bothersome to some people.
At the end of the day, choosing a flu treatment is trial and error until you find something that makes you more comfortable, Dr. Romm said. And that, she said, is “worth it.”
audio produced by Kate Winslet,
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