Some of the most common winter ailments are briefly profiled below. To effectively treat these common complaints, you need first to understand what causes them.
To paraphrase the famous Chinese general, Sun Tsu, one must know thy self and know thy enemy and victory will be assured. In this case, the enemies are those winter complaints of colds, coughs, sore throats, headaches and flu. The victory is then your return to good health.
IS IT A COLD OR IS IT THE FLU?
The common cold is an acute viral infection caused by one of many contagious rhino-viruses that invade the upper respiratory tract. Symptoms include sore throat, white bumps on the tonsils, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing, enlarged and/or painful lymph nodes in the neck, headaches and low-grade fevers (high fevers are uncommon). The common cold has an 18 to 48-hour incubation period in the body and usually runs its course in four to 10 days.
Influenza, or flu, is a different acute viral infection caused by the myxovirus. Flu is more severe than a cold, has a 48-hour incubation period, and symptoms are of sudden onset. These include chills, fever, headache, fatigue/malaise, muscle aches and pains, and cough. The infection usually resolves in seven to 10 days, but may linger longer.
It is not uncommon for bacterial infections to set in after an initial attack of cold or flu has weakened the immune system. These secondary infections may take the form of earache, sinusitis and respiratory infections such as bronchitis or even pneumonia. Seek professional treatment if you become unusually short of breath, cough up blood or large amounts of yellow or green phlegm, or have a prolonged high fever.
Rest, plenty of healthy fluids (like filtered water, hot toddies, and chicken soup with lots of cayenne pepper), and symptomatic treatment with herbs, vitamins, minerals, and essential oils can go a long way towards alleviating the general discomfort of these infections. Boosting immunity and using natural antiviral agents go hand in glove with the above.
VIRAL SORE THROAT (PHARYNGITIS AND/OR TONSILLITIS)
A viral sore throat occurs when cold or flu viruses attack the pharynx or upper respiratory tract. Other viruses can also cause sore throats, such as the ‘mono’ virus that causes infectious mononucleosis and the coxsackievirus that causes mouth ulcers known as herpanginas. Note that Strep throat results from a bacterial infection and therefore requires different treatment.
Treatment of a viral sore throat is similar to that of the common cold and flu. Analgesics are added to relieve pain and can be applied in the form of gargles, throat sprays, and inhalations. Sore throats are usually self-limiting and clear up along with other cold or flu symptoms. Active or passive smoking must be especially avoided at this time because the respiratory mucosa is more sensitive than usual.
A cough is a natural and necessary action the body takes to get rid of substances irritating the respiratory airways. Irritation of special cells along the air passages triggers a chain of events that forces the air in the lungs out under great pressure to relieve the irritation. It may be a voluntary process, or an involuntary one such as occurs during a cold when mucus drips down the back of the throat (postnasal drip). Coughs can be acute or chronic, depending on the nature of the stimulus or cause. Treatment of coughs due to winter ailments relies on agents that encourage thinning and expulsion of mucus, relieve spasms, soothe irritated airways, and prevent secondary infections. Try inhalations of eucalyptus or thyme essential oils.
These usually occur because of congestion in the sinuses, but can also result from physical exertion like exercise or excessive coughing. Dehydration is another common cause of headaches. All of these causes can be effectively treated with natural means including essential oils (peppermint, lavender and eucalyptus), water and rest.
Relative to colds and flu, immunity can also be impaired by numerous stressors. Changes in temperature, poor sleeping patterns, inadequate or poor diet and long-term stress all contribute to a weakened immune system. Treatment therefore hinges on modifying these behaviours and circumstances, which can be achieved fairly easily with a little effort and consciousness.
Although secondary infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, should not be the normal squeals to colds and flu, these sometimes develop in compromised individuals. They can be treated with natural medicine alternatives to conventional antibiotics that can be prescribed by various qualified health professionals like doctors of integrated medicine, herbalists, and naturopaths. First prize however goes to preventing secondary infections from occurring in the first place by ensuring optimal immune health.
HOW DO YOU CATCH A COLD?
Can you catch a cold from a bank note handed to you as change when shopping? What about that door handle at the office door everyone uses? Cold and flu viruses are more commonly found in the winter and especially so when people around you have the infection. It was once thought that you picked up these infections directly from coughs or sneezes. We now know that it is not as simple as this.
Coughs and sneezes do spread viruses but so do the hands of those suffering from colds or flu. Public surfaces such as door handles, escalators, telephones and lift-buttons can be covered with bugs – in some cases, more bugs than the average toilet seat!
You pick up cold and flu viruses by touching these ‘infected’ surfaces then transfer them to your nose or mouth. Just observe how often people touch their faces with their hands – scientists tell us that this happens up to 100 times an hour. Try as we may, some habits are hard to break!
- GIVE COLLEAGUES THE COLD SHOULDER AND AVOID HANDSHAKES
- IN A POLL OF 3 000 WORKERS, SIX OUT OF TEN PREFER A SNOT‑FILLED COLLEAGUE TO BE SENT HOME AND TO TAKE ON THEIR EXTRA WORK, RATHER THAN RISK CATCHING GERMS
- SNORT AND BLOW YOUR NOSE DISCREETLY AND THROW YOUR TISSUES IN THE BIN
- DON’T SPREAD GERMS BY ANSWERING PHONES BELONGING TO COLLEAGUES
- YOU GET 200 COLDS IN A LIFETIME THAT’S 5 YEARS OF COUGHS, SNEEZES AND RUNNY NOSES
10 NATURAL LIFESTYLE TIPS FOR HEALTHY LIVING
- Wash your hands after blowing your nose. This sounds trite, but germs lurk on your hands more than you may realise. Also keep your hands away from your face as much as possible to minimise viral spread.
- Use tissues instead of cloth hankies. Dispose of used tissues immediately after use (remember to then wash your hands).
- Keep surfaces and highly-handled items clean (kitchen counters, bathroom sinks, computer keyboards, cell phones) with safe, natural antimicrobial agents. Make a spritz containing essential oils of tea tree, lemon and/or origanum.
- Humidify your environment so that the membranes of your respiratory airways don’t dry out.
- Diffuse essential oils, preferably via a cold air diffuser, to zap bugs in an environmentally friendly, healthy way.
- Wear appropriate clothing – not too cool, but not so warm that you sweat excessively. Professor Ron Eccles of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University believes that cooling of the nose may reduce our resistance to infection. This can easily be remedied by wearing a scarf across the nose and mouth in cold weather.
- Get enough quality sleep, in a well-ventilated, cool room. Rather use extra blankets than electric blankets or heaters that dry out the air.
- Breathe! Try this yogic exercise daily. Stand with your feet a little wider than your hip and place each hand onto the opposite shoulder. Twist from side to side, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Synchronise your breath with each twist and repeat for at least 30 breaths. This provides instant energy and mobilises the spinal fluid, so that the chi can flow more freely.
- And most importantly of all, have some laughs, as the immune system works better when you’re happy.
- Remember to enjoy the changes that accompany this season, as without winter there would be no spring or summer!
SIMPLE CARE PLAN FOR COLDS AND FLU
- When the first symptoms of a cold rears its head, minimise normal food intake and stick to light broth made from celery, parsley, thyme, origanum and lots of garlic.
- Increase your intake of healthy liquids such as diluted fresh vegetable juice, fresh fruit juice (not too much sugar), or herbal teas/tisanes with added ginger and lemon for 24 hours.
- Avoid milk, cheese, bread, sugar and other mucus-forming substances like chocolate and bananas. Above all, avoid smoke and smoking!
- Have a warm-to-hot Epsom salts and bicarbonate of soda bath or footbath. If you’re feeling stuffy a few drops of essential oil of Ravintsara and/or Eucalyptus can be added. Wrap up warmly and go to bed with a hot toddy.
- Rest as much as possible; preferably have a quiet day or two in bed. Otherwise try to get a few early nights. Leave off going to the gym for a few days.
- Infuse bug-busting and immune-enhancing essential oils into your environment, such as lemon, tea tree and labdanum. Preferably use a cold air diffuser, as heat affects the integrity of essential oil molecules.
- Increase your vitamin C and A intake, and add some zinc and selenium for good measure.
Maintaining good health relies on good nutrition and conscious living, and does include getting ill from time to time. When you do succumb to illness, be gentle with your body and give it as much support as you can. Your body knows how to heal itself, if you will allow it to.
Confused about the difference between sinusitis and allergies, click here. Do you want to prepare your immune system for winter? See the informative article by Jeanne van Zyl.