Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Natural, drug-free ways to cope with flu-and-cold season

With cold medications contraindicated for children younger than 4, and with the risks of some over-the-counter drugs outweighing the benefits for many pregnant women, it's a good idea to have on hand a few drug-free, tried-and-true ways to get through the flu-and-cold season.

A confession: I snore. Like a lumberjack. So much so that my husband keeps a flat speaker under his pillow, permanently tuned to NPR. And when I am sick, it gets much, much worse. But sleep-like-a-baby nighttime cold medications leave me groggy and loggy for hours the next day; antihistimines take even longer to leave my system, which means that even most daytime formulas make me sleepy.

How bad does a sinus infection have to be for someone who has a fear of getting water up her nose to consider flushing out her sinus cavities with lukewarm saline? And then actually do it?

This bad, apparently.

I'll spare you the details. Anyway, the bottom line is: it was gross, but now I feel better, and I'll probably do it again. Which led me to root through my archives, looking for other natural cold-and-flu remedies to reconsider.

1. Hot Tea. Cliche? Yes. But so, so soothing. When I'm not feeling well, all I want is strong black tea with peppermint and a metric ton of sugar. If it's bedtime, I'll make my own version of a medicinal toddy: Chamomile tea, honey, fresh lime, candied ginger, and a shot of rum. For my kids, I leave out the rum, sub peppermint for chamomile, and go heavy on the honey (they're old enough now -- babies younger than 1 shouldn't have honey.)

2. Getting over my fear of nasal irrigation. Really, it did help. If a neti pot seems to exotic (or confusing), Simply Saline has a system that uses nothing but distilled water and sea salt, and offers forumlations for allergy suffers, kids, and babies as well as their standard stuff. And it works really, really well. It claims to be non-addictive, and that's probably true, but let me tell you, it's easy to get used to the feeling of having a clear, sinus-pressure-free head -- without drugs.

3. Gargling with apple cider vinegar instead of salt water. 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 (hint: it won't be long). Spit it out into the sink, wipe your eyes, and do it again. Tastes nasty, but it fixes my sore throat like nothing else.

4. Tea Tree oil. It won't kill my headache completely, but if I dab a little of it straight onto my temples, it gives me a pleasant feeling to focus on while I ride it out (or, if it's a bad one, wait for the ibuprophen to work). It also does a great job at making me feel like I can breathe a bit more easily.

5. Sleep. What? Did Lylah actually advocate getting more sleep? Hypocrite. But it is all natural, it's exactly what your body needs, and it works. If you're fortunate enough to have sick days at your job, use them, if you can. Get your spouse an under-the-pillow speaker, if necessary, and hit the hay.

How do you soothe your cold and flu symptoms without (or before) turning to meds?

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