THE PHARMACY — Sniff-sniff, cough-cough. As you might notice, I’ve got a code in de node. My eyes are red and wet, my nose looks like I’m trying out for Rudolph in the school Christmas play. I feel wretched. Yes, this is flu season and no I don’t have the flu. If I did I’d be dead or wishing I were. You may have a cold, too, so what do you do to treat it? Looking down the aisles I see boxes and bottles, tubes and more boxes holding more pills.
You remember the other week we discovered that most vitamins and treatments for Low T are hoaxes? I am looking yet another example of sheep getting fleeced. Don’t believe me? Let’s ask Mayo Clinic which knows something about health, treatments and medicine. Those experts proclaim without hesitation, “There’s no cure for the common cold.” Why doesn’t that make us feel better? You know the old saying: Treat a cold and it lasts seven days. Don’t treat it and it lasts a week. Not that we can’t do things to make us feel better, so let’s explore.
First, head colds have been around as long as people have had noses, and today the common cold is the most frequently occurring illness in the world. Estimates are that Americans suffer 1 billion colds per year, which makes them a leading cause of missed days from school, with approximately 22 million days of school absences recorded in the U.S. annually. Colds are also the leading cause for missed days at work. Don’t you hate it when a fellow worker shows up looking and sounding like I do now, to proudly proclaim: “I’m sick as a dog, but, cough-cough, I’m going to get my work done ’cause I’m a real trouper. Sneeze!” This ailment is also the Number 1 reason for doctor visits, although unless you are really sick you don’t need to see a doctor. Besides, Obamacare doesn’t cover it — the doctor, not the cold.
Here are a few things we need to know from Mayo and other experts, along with several facts we already know: Preschool children are at greatest risk of frequent colds, slightly older children are next, which brings up the question of why more elementary school teachers aren’t sick much of the time. Most people recover from a common cold in about a week or two. More than 200 different viruses can cause colds, but the biggest culprit is the rhinovirus. Just how I’m supposed to know which bug to guard against isn’t clear. The best way to come down with a cold is to stand beside someone who sneezes or coughs without using a Kleenex or at least a sleeve. Those viri thrown into the air enter your nose or mouth or, some tests show, through your eyes. The next best way to end up sick is through a third party such as touching a counter, door knob or anything recently touched by a Typhoid Mary, then touching your face. Clue: If you find yourself in the same room with a carrier, wash your hands constantly and don’t breathe.
About the only advancement on the scene is that scientists finally determined that colds are caused by a virus, so we don’t catch a cold by being cold. When I was a small tad it was generally believed that we could come down with a head cold by being out in freezing or even chilly weather. Same with sleeping with a wet head or in the wind of an air conditioner. Here’s why cold weather got the blame: It ain’t the cold, it’s the humidity, or lack thereof. Cold winter air, which is less humid than warm summer air, can dry out the mucus lining of your nasal passages, making it easier for viruses to get in and make you sick. So, while colds can occur at any time of the year, they are most common in the winter. But if it true that cold air was only the accomplice, not the criminal, why do people in humid places like Port Arthur and New Orleans get colds?
To keep things wet, besides your upper lip, get a humidifier, but it can also cause mold, fungi and bacteria if not cleaned properly. Change the water in your humidifier daily. Also, take a hot shower whether you need it or not. The steam from the hot water will help to clear your nasal passages, and help you to relax. If the heat leaves you feeling a little dizzy, consider putting a plastic chair or stool in the shower — along with a good book or maybe a small TV set. People are most contagious for the first two to three days of a cold, thus a cold is usually not contagious after the first week.
You won’t be cured, but you will feel a little better by drinking water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey. They help loosen congestion and prevent dehydration. Now the bad news: Avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas, which can make dehydration worse. I take hot tea with bourbon. Chicken soup might help relieve cold symptoms. Gargling saltwater can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat. Nonprescription decongestants and pain relievers offer some symptom relief, but they won’t prevent a cold or shorten its length, and most have some side effects.
Warning: If nonprescription decongestants and pain relievers are used for more than a few days, they can actually make symptoms worse. Remember that acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) can cause serious liver damage or liver failure if you take them in doses higher than recommended. Don’t take antibiotics — they attack bacteria, but they’re no help against cold viruses. Avoid zinc because most studies show it does no good and may actually harm you — like losing your sense of smell.
Now which box of worthless pills do I want to buy? Sniff-sniff.
Ashby is cold at firstname.lastname@example.org