Thursday, October 22, 2009

Drug-free ways to soothe cold and flu misery

Let's face it: Whether you get the flu shot or not, and whether you're worried about H1N1 (a.k.a. Swine Flu) or not, chances are you and your kids are going to be facing some flu-like symptoms this season.

Why? Well, even if you've gotten the vaccine, it can take as long as two weeks for your body to produce enough antibodies to protect you, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. And the flu shot only protects against flu -- if you catch one of the many, many non-influenza viruses out there, you can exhibit miserable flu-like symptoms but not actually have the flu.

This isn't a post about whether or not to get the flu shot. (Want to discuss that anyway? You're in luck -- this one is!). But if you're looking for a drug-free way to ease the misery at home, regardless of the state of your immunizations, check out these options:

Hot packs. For some reason, even if my fever is high enough that my kids are taking turns using me as their own personal heater, I feel shiveringly cold. Not to mention really, really achy. Fill a small cloth bag with raw rice or millet and zap it in the microwave for a minute or two for instant heat that won't leak all of your bed the way an improperly sealed hot-water bottle can. (Not that I'd know anything about that. Ahem). In my house, we call them "Smelly Pillows" because they have a handful of lavender flowers mixed in with the millet. You can call them something more normal-sounding at your house.

Chicken soup. Your Grandmother was right: Chicken soup really does help. I usually have a stash of homemade broth in the freezer (and you can, too! Do more with less!), but any kind of broth will do. Go easy on the spices and chunky things -- trust me. Clear broth stays down more easily, if you know what I mean.

Ginger tea. I make mine do double duty as a cough soother by adding a ton of honey, but if you're making it for a grownup, a nip of rum can make this tea even more soothing. Boil a kettle of water, chop up a small handful of crystallized ginger, and put it into a huge mug along with the honey, a bag of Chamomile tea, and a splash of lemon or lime juice. Fill the mug with water. Breathe in the steam while you wait for it to steep. Eat the candied ginger when you're done.

Apple cider vinegar. I gave up salt-water gargles for apple cider vinegar a few years ago, and have not looked back since. Mix the vinegar half and half with warm water and gargle it, trying to keep it up against your enormous tonsils for as many seconds as you can (warning: you can't do it for long). Spit it out into the sink, dry heave, and do it again. Tastes nasty, but it fixes my sore throat like nothing else.

And don't forget the old adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can minimize your chances of getting the flu -- or any other virus -- by taking these simple steps, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

1.) Covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze.

2.) Washing your hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel frequently.

3.) Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

4.) Not shoving that used tissue back in your pocket. (Come on, Moms... we all do it, especially if the nose we've just wiped belongs to one of our kids.)

5.) Staying home from work when you're sick. (I know, I know... we live in a world where not everyone has sick days, and in this economy, none of us can really afford to miss work. But one can dream.)

How do you cope with cold and flu season?

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