How many times have you come down with the common cold this year? In a world of COVID, we tend to be pretty careful about hygiene, masking up, and not coming to work if you’re sick (at long last). But even still, the average person will pick up a cold two to four times a year. That is almost every twelve weeks.
I often think about a body with a cold as a bit of a warzone. A foreign entity has shown up, and the body begins to deploy troops. Sadly, most of the symptoms you detest are actually friendly fire from your body’s immune system as it attempts to flush the virus out.Blocked Nose: The virus gets about two days head start before the troops can be marshalled, and in that time, it has replicated itself. The body responds by releasing a chemical called cytokines. This causes your blood vessels to dilate so that the white blood cells (the infantry) can travel more efficiently to the front line. The only problem with this? When the blood cells get bigger, everything gets congested and blocked up. Contrary to common belief, a blocked nose isn’t blocked because there is too much snot or mucus; it is blocked because the passageways are inflamed.
Headache: This is linked pretty closely to the inflammation of your nasal passages. When your sinuses are irritated, it can cause inflammation in your head as well, and it typically feels like pressure on your forehead, and behind the cheeks and eyes. It is often worse when you are lying down which is why mornings are generally the worst part of the day.
Cough: Mucus is a fairly unpleasant part of being sick. But before you get too upset, it is also part of your body’s attempt to get better. You might think of it as your body’s own moisturiser, keeping everything from becoming dry and hard (which is where the virus thrives). It also acts as a barrier to keep further foreign bodies from entering through your nose or throat. Finally, it is the way your body gets rid of depleted white blood cells (the soldiers who have fought valiantly and need to be removed).
Fortunately, there are ways to minimise the symptoms when they inevitably show up. Unlike the mediaeval physicians who would take plum stone oil and melon seeds, we kinda know what we are doing by now.
Here are the six worst things you can do:
- Ignore it. If you ‘soldier on’ your symptoms will inevitably be prolonged and your will to live will severely decline
- Don’t sleep. If you are getting less than seven hours a night your risk of contracting a cold triples in the first place. And once you’ve got the cold? Well, sleep is your best friend.
- Stress. Heaps. Your stress hormones actually prevent your immune system from functioning properly. Whether it be stressing over the illness itself, or busying yourself in work or personal dramas, you need to step back.
- Cut down on water. You need lots of fluids when you’re sick. It helps to thin out your mucus and this allows your sinuses to drain better. It also prolongs your headache as you can easily become dehydrated with all of the sneezing, coughing, and snot streaming from your nose.
- Pick up smoking. I say this every time, but there is not a single blog post I write where ‘cut smoking’ doesn’t improve your specific health condition. It damages your lungs, which means you are more likely to get colds more frequently, and they last longer when they do show up.
- Have a big night. I get it. Sometimes the temptation to drown your sorrows becomes real when you are seven days into a cold and you just want to numb some of the pain. In reality, alcohol wreaks havoc with your immune system so you are prolonging it yet again. The answer is not to be found at the bottom of the bottle. At least, not that bottle.
So what does work? Well, the inversion of the six activities listed above, but there are other things you can do to get on the front foot as well.
- Saltwater gargle: Add half a teaspoon of salt to a small glass of warm water and gargle it around your throat. This has antimicrobial properties that will alleviate the symptoms of a sore throat for a while. Fair warning, kids under six will tend to get this wrong, so you might want to look for other options for them
- Codral cold and flu: Codral cold and flu contains 500mg of paracetamol which will dull the pain receptors in your brain. This means no more headache, or general aches and pains. It also contains phenylephrine which helps to relieve the swelling in your nasal passages. No more runny or blocked noses! Codral cold and flu is a bit of a silver bullet.
- Add moisture to the air: As I said, a cold loves the cold and dry, which is why it tends to thrive in the winter. So if you can get into a hot steamy shower, or sit under a tea towel over a bowl of steamy water, you are doing yourself a massive favour. If you are extremely over your cold, you could even buy a humidifier to keep the air in your entire house moist. Be warned, this can cause mould issues if you keep this up for a long time.
- Chicken soup: This is one of those old wives tales that has actually been validated by science. The warmth unblocks your nasal passages, and the salt functions as a saltwater gargle. Plus, it is delicious, so it will buoy your mood for half an hour or so.
There you have it. I hope this gives you some tips for the next time a cold comes a-knocking on your door. May it be swift and mild.
All the best,