Take Care of Yourself During Cold and Flu Season
Updated: Jan 23
As the weather gets colder we’re coming up on the dreaded cold and flu season again. I wanted to give you some tips on what you can do if a cold or the flu catches up with you.
How Do I Know If I Have A Cold or the Flu?
The common cold and flu are both viruses and it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two. In general, a cold will involve a runny nose, sneezing, sinus congestion, sore throat, cough, and fatigue. The influenza virus often causes more intense symptoms like fever, chills, body aches, headache, cough, fatigue and sometimes involves sneezing and runny nose. You can get tested for flu and there are prescription antivirals, but they work best in the early stages of the flu. Antibiotics will not work against either of these illnesses because they are viruses.
Wash Your Hands
Naturopathic medicine is all about preventing illness so I wanted to throw this in here because it’s so simple yet effective. Washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with regular soap and hot water is a really effective way to prevent the spread of germs. Make sure to get soap all over your hands, between your fingers and under your nails and either air-dry or use a clean towel or paper towel to dry hands. We touch so many surfaces throughout the day and then also touch our faces, which is how germs get into our bodies through our nose and mouth. If you can’t wash your hands use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Drinking lots of water when you’re sick is important because you may be losing it if you’re feverish and sweating and it can help to thin mucus in your sinuses and lungs, making it easier to cough it out. Stay hydrated with water, tea, soup, or broth. You can make an immune supportive tea with ginger, lemon and honey. Use immune supportive foods and herbs like garlic, onions, thyme, oregano, or ginger in soups and broths.
Neti pots are versatile in their uses. I like to recommend them for seasonal allergies to rinse the sinuses of pollen, but they can be helpful in the case of colds and flu too. These viruses enter your body through your nose so rinsing your sinuses with a neti pot can flush them out and prevent the virus from attaching to your mucus membranes. A salt rinse is a simple rinse to use in a neti pot and most people have this at home already. Use clean, warm water and enough salt to make it taste like tears. Use the neti pot in the shower and blow your nose well after you get out. You can also use xylitol or herbal teas as rinses.
Essential Oil Steam Inhalation
I love doing a steam inhalation when I'm sick because the warm steam feels great and is very relaxing. The hot steam will loosen up sinus and lung congestion and the antimicrobial essential oils will fight off the infection. To prepare the steam heat up a large pot of water until it's simmering then take it off the stove and add a couple drops of essential oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint, thyme or lavender. If you don't have essential oils you can throw in dried or fresh thyme, oregano, lavender or mint. Cover your head and the pot with a towel and breathe in the steam for about 10-15 minutes.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
This herb is a great antiviral and is safe for kids. You can take it for colds, flu, fever and upper respiratory infections. It’s easy to find at health food stores and comes in the form of a great tasting syrup. Other ways to take it include tea, tincture and lozenges. You can also make your own. I’ve included a recipe from Rosemary Gladstar below to get you started. Make some now before the winter so you’ll have it on hand when you need it.
How to Make Elderberry Syrup
1 cup fresh or ½ cup dried elderberries
3 cups water
1 cup honey
Place the berries in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 30-45 minutes.
Smash the berries. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and add 1 cup honey or adjust to taste.
Bottle and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 2-3 months.
Caution: use only blue elderberries; the red ones are potentially toxic.
Whatever you choose to do, remember that staying home and resting are essential to allow your body to heal. For more ideas Rosemary Gladstar’s book Family Herbal is a great resource and has lots of recipes. Her book was the first herb book I bought years ago and I still love it for the practical knowledge and recipes she shares in it.
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This website is not intended for the purpose of providing medical advice. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.
“CDC Features.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Feb. 2018, www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/.
Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal: a Guide to Living Life with Energy, Health, and Vitality. Storey Books, 2001.
“Influenza (Flu).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Aug. 2018, www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.