Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ask A Nurse About: Treating A Cold

I am not only a nurse to my patients, I am also a nurse to my family, friends, neighbors,
and random strangers in Target and our local grocery store.  On a daily basis, I
encounter numerous questions about health, medications, and random concerns such
as "What does it mean when my poop turns green?".  And so I begin a new feature here,
Ask A Nurse, where I will attempt to put into laymen terms the very confusing anatomy
and physiology of the human body.  Am I an expert?  Hardly.  But I am an
experienced, certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse and a mother of two.  I draw
from my experiences in my medical practice, my journey through motherhood, and
my endless collection of credible nursing textbooks and resources.  Remember: this is just
a blog.  Just as you should never base any serious decision on internet ramblings, so
should you not take anything you read here as concrete fact.  When in doubt, consult
your doctor/naturopathic/guru.
This week's topic: Natural remedies for the common cold

Unless you and your family live inside some magical protective bubble, chances are at
least one member of your household has been plagued by the common cold this winter:
stuffy nose, sinus pressure, coughing and fever.  Since the common cold is caused by a
virus, there is no antibiotic or cure available to kill this nasty bug.  Instead, you should
focus on treating your symptoms, hopefully shortening the duration of the illness.  There
are tons of over the counter medications that can be used according to the specific
symptoms involved: antihistamines for allergies, cough suppressants, fever reducers,
and nasal decongestants.  But, there are also a number of natural remedies you can try
to help soothe your stuffy nose and itchy throat.
Here are a few I've learned over the years.

Steam: Hot steam is a wonderful way to help loosen up sinus and chest congestion.
Turn your bathroom into a steam room by running the hot water in your tub or shower
and closing the door.  Sit in the steamy room for 10-15 minutes.  For older children
and adults, you can also sit over a bowl or pot of hot, steaming water as well as a
facial steamer.  Hot steam vaporizers, such as this one made by Vic's, can be placed in
your bedroom at night.  Eucalyptus oil can be added to vaporizers to clear nasal passages.
Be careful when using hot steam vaporizers if you have allergies: they can cause mold
growth if your room is not well ventilated, thus exacerbating your allergies even
further.  After using steam, attempt to cough and blow the loosened mucous out.  You
can loosen the mucous on the chest up by cupping your hand and clapping on the front
and back of the chest (where the lungs are).  The force of your clapping should be a
little harder than burping.
Salves: Use a vapor rub salve on the chest and directly under the nose to help clear 
nasal passages.  Vic's Vapo Rub is a staple in this house and has been since I was a little 
girl.  The old folks say that rubbing Vic's on the bottom of your feet will also help to suppress 
a bad cough.
Stay hydrated:  It is so important to stay hydrated with a cold.  Drinking ample
fluids will help thin the mucous, thus making it easier to extract and keeping you 
hydrated.  Hot tea with honey and lemon is soothing for your throat, orange juice is a 
great source of Vitamin C and a natural immune booster, chicken soup or broth to keep 
your nutrient needs intact.
Rest is best:  With a cold, it is so important to get plenty of rest so that your body can
focus all its energy on battling the germ war.  Cuddle up in bed with your favorite
book and/or reality TV show and sleep it off.  As much as your children will allow you,
of course.  Sleep upright as much as possible to prevent mucous from pooling up in your
inner ear and the back of your throat.
Herbs: When not contraindicated by medical conditions and medications you are
currently taking, herbs are nature's most perfect way to battle illness.  In terms of
the common cold, garlic, echinacea, astragalus, zinc, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, ginger,
and elderberry are excellent herbs to combat symptoms and lessen the time of
infection.  These can be used in teas and are also available in pill and capsule form.

When to seek further attention:

If your cold lasts longer than two weeks or keeps coming back
If you develop shortness of breathe, wheezing, or difficulty breathing
Fever greater than 103 degrees or that lasts longer than 3 days
Bluish skin color
Earache or drainage from the ear
Severe pain in your chest, face, or forehead
Hoarseness, cough, or sore throat that lasts longer than 10 days
These symptoms can signal a sinus infection, severe allergies, or a respiratory infection
that needs further treatment.  Consult your family physician if any of these occur. 

Have a question you'd like to ask a nurse?  Leave me a comment and I will address it in a future post.  
Or, email me at  

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nurseebooks said...

Good helpful suggestions for treating a cold.  I have found that steam works well for the sinus miseries of allergies.

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