Home Remedies #1

Cold and flu season is upon us. When the weather changes, and a new crop of undergraduates bring new germs to town, I almost always fall victim to it. (This is why you see no lunch today. But more on that later.) I figure dealing with fevers, congestion, sore throats, and coughing is as universal an issue as lunch, so I thought I'd write about that today.

I am not opposed to medicine, mind you. Medicine is wonderful. There's a reason why we use medicine rather than tree bark now. (Even medicine that comes from tree bark, like aspirin, is better in medicine-form--controlled dosing and such.) So I will definitely not eschew helpful medicine. But not all medicine is helpful, in my experience, and a lot of non-medicine kind of stuff, is. So let's begin. We shall assume that you have come down with a cold, or the flu, or some other seasonal crud that involves a runny/stuffy nose, sore throat, fatigue, maybe a fever, and a cough in a week or so. If you are like me, without careful attention, this will turn into sinusitis and/or bronchitis and/or full on pneumonia.

Usual legal disclaimer: What I am about to say is not intended to substitute for advice from a medical professional. I am not a doctor, nor when I become a doctor (within a year, fingers crossed), will that be the kind of doctor I will be. So this is still just based on my own personal experience with my own personal viruses. Your viruses may vary. So get thee to an actual M.D. before you catch your actual death of cold.

Anyhow, these are the things I keep on hand for my "Single Sick Person Kit."

Medicine that is good:

Sudafed. Original only. Generic pseudoephedrine is fine. This is the stuff you have to ask for at the pharmacist's counter, because they don't leave it out, and they'll check ID and make a record of you having bought it. This is so you do not make meth out of it. Meth heads ruined it for all of us and suddenly you find an impostor decongestant running around. "Sudafed PE" is the name brand but the actual ingredient is phenylephrine. Phenylephrine is on my list of medicine that is not good. Buy the Sudafed you have to take every 4-6 hours, as much as they'll let you, because you're going to need more than the amount you're allowed to buy in a month for your average cold. It's generally a good idea to just buy the stuff every couple of months, and have it on hand, and throw it out when it expires, rather than be caught sick and reach your limit.

Tylenol. Generic acetaminophen is fine. I take extra strength. Good for fevers and such. You can take more impressive pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen if your doctor will let you. Mine won't let me.

Mucinex. With this, you're going to need the name brand, because generic guaifenesin, at least what I've seen, comes in a weaker dose. And it's pricey. But if you are someone who tends toward bronchitis, you should take this if you start having trouble with a productive cough. Drink lots and lots of liquids and have plenty of tissues on hand. Your nose will run while on this medication. Like a faucet. But you'll be less miserable in the end.

Medicine that is not all that useful that is NOT in the kit:

Cough syrups. Unless they're prescription, cough syrup never seems to do anything for me but put me to sleep. And then I wake up. Coughing.

Cough drops/throat lozenges. I cough while sucking on them. Useless.

Sudafed PE and all generic equivalents. See above.

Things that are not really medicine that you find at a drugstore that are useful:

Mentholated Breathe Right Nasal Strips. Generics don't seem to do as good a job, so spring for name brand here. Put this on your nose at night (and only at night--you're not supposed to wear them for more than 12 hours, I think), and you will breathe through your nose. You'll cough less. Your throat will end up hurting less. You may end up with a red mark across the bridge of your nose after a few nights, but trust me, this is a small price to pay.

Ayr Saline Nasal Gel. So, you know how when you're blowing your nose a lot it gets red and raw? If you put this stuff on your nose, proactively, after every blow or just when it's starting to dry out, you'll avoid this problem. You'll also be more likely to continue to breathe through your nose when possible, because it won't be as uncomfortable. I swear I could take stock in Ayr.

A Neti Pot or something like it. If you have really honed talents, you might be able to use a syringe. When I first started doing saline nasal rinses, on the orders of a doctor, nobody around had ever heard of such a thing, and my mother freaked out at me squirting water up my nose with a medicine dropper, but seriously, there has never been anything that made me feel better for less money. You basically pour or squirt warm salty water up your nose. I use a pot now, because it's easier, but you don't have to. You can do these rinses as often as you like. You'll be surprised what you can rinse out of there (and what it helps you blow out). It's gross and fascinating at the same time. But if you don't live alone, shut the bathroom door, or your fellow house-dwellers might freak.

Vaseline. This, or something like Vitamin A & D ointment that is based on petroleum jelly, to coat your lips, is a good idea. They won't get so dry, and peel, and make you feel worse.

Listerine. I hate the yellow kind; I suggest something minty. But in any case, gargling with antibacterial mouthwash tends to be a good, quick way to relieve a painful sore throat.

Tissues. It's obvious, but seriously, people, do not be caught in this season without at least one fresh box on hand. And when you're blowing your nose a lot, spring for a name brand. It's easier on the nostrils.

You might, if you are lucky and have the money for it, find some sort of eucalyptus shower tablets. These are great for when you're really congested, both nasally and in the chest, and need something to open up your various respiratory passages. But they're pricey, and hard to find.

Things found in a grocery store:

Lemon juice and honey. Mix this with hot water or a plain cup of hot decaf tea and drink. This, unlike cough drops, will actually soothe the throat and calm your coughing. And you want to be drinking lots of fluid anyway.

Dried chicken noodle soup mix. Let's face it--you're not going to be making homemade chicken noodle soup for yourself when you feel like death warmed over. But the canned stuff is vile. I like to keep both instant Lipton Cup-o-Soup and some sort of other, more substantial soup mix on hand. They've done studies that suggest it is an effective decongestant, but whether that's true or not, it does make me feel better.

Salt. Both for the saline nasal rinses and to put in hot water to gargle with (when you are really having problems with a congested throat).

Herbal tea. Really, I don't want to drink anything cold, but you also don't want caffeine. My absolute favorite tea in the world is Good Earth Original Sweet & Spicy. There's the added benefit of the spicyness helping with congestion. Add honey, but not lemon juice, to this, for a temporary cough suppressant, too. But you can drink whatever herbal tea you like. Just have lots on hand--I go through at least 8-10 cups a day when I'm feeling really sick. Caveat: be careful not to overdose on any one herbal tea, or you might have some interesting symptoms.

I'm sure I've left something out, but my brain doesn't work as well when I'm under the weather. Stay well out there!


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