Sipping Once, Sipping Twice...

December 23, 2014

...Sipping chicken soup with rice.” This line from a children’s book by Maurice Sendak may be good advice for all those who get a winter viral illness. Researchers have actually studied the effect of chicken soup on a viral illness and it appears that the soup, canned or homemade, does help relieve stuffiness by speeding up the elimination of mucus. It certainly can’t hurt and it tastes good!

 As winter begins, there is no doubt that you (or a family member) will get a cold or another viral cold-like illness. Some may get true influenza.  For most colds and cold-like viral illnesses, time, rest and fluids provide the cure. However, many people will visit a pharmacy to purchase a bagful of “promises” with the hope of getting better quicker.   Remember, there is no cure for a cold or most of the other common winter viral illnesses. What you may be able to do is to relieve some of the symptoms and lessen the discomfort. Here’s what you need to know:

  • If you use over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve symptoms, try to treat each symptom with a medication specific for that symptom. While combination products offer convenience, if your nose isn’t stuffed, you don’t need to use a nasal decongestant.
  • Start with the lowest recommended dose and proceed up if necessary. If you are not better after a few days, or if your symptoms become severe or are unusual, see you doctor. Self-diagnosis can lead to danger. 
  • A decongestant is used for a stuffy nose from a viral illness like a cold. It comes in pill or spray form. Sprays should not be used for more than 3 days. Antihistamines are more useful for allergy and may or may not help with cold symptoms. Antihistamines can make you drowsy.
  • Saline nasal sprays do not have a medication in them and can be used freely. They may help to relieve stuffiness.
  • Any OTC medication can interact with other medications that you take. Read the information on the OTC product. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about interactions with prescription meds that you take.
  • Drinking lots of fluids (defined as water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon/honey water) can help to loosen congestion and prevent dehydration.
  • Saltwater gargles (1/2 tsp to 8 ounces of water) may help relieve a sore or scratchy throat.
  • Adding humidity to the environment, through a humidifier, can also add comfort. However, remember to clean and disinfect your humidifier which can grow mold and other spores.
  • Steam (like in a shower) can help to loosen mucus. There are also OTC products that can be used to loosen mucus and phlegm. Check with your doctor to see if these type of products would be appropriate for you.
  • Antibiotics DO NOT treat viral illnesses, like colds!
  • Despite what the advertisers would like us to think, most OTC cough syrups do little to help relieve symptoms. There are two main ingredients. Often products combine these. Expectorants help to loosen mucus and make the cough more productive. Suppressants (also called antitussives) quiet coughs.
  • Analgesics (like aspirin, acetaminophen “Tylenol” or ibuprofen) may be used for aches and pains. Remember, aspirin should not be given to children with viral illnesses. Also note Tylenol in high doses can cause liver damage.
  • You may wonder about products like Vitamin C, Echinacea, arginine, elderberry juice, garlic, ginseng, green tea, licorice root, selenium and zinc. Researchers have had a hard time proving these products are beneficial. A report in Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter, December 2009 was unable to give any of these products a grade above a “C” on an A-F scale based on scientific research. However, there are consumers who believe these products work for them. For a reprint of the Tufts article, call or email QVHD. )
  • Common sense should tell you that if your symptoms get worse after several days or a symptom should become severe (high fever, extreme headache, stiff neck, difficulty breathing, etc.) you should contact your doctor for evaluation. These may be indications of a more serious viral or bacterial infection. 

 Having a cold or viral illness is an inconvenience. It slows us down, but for most, recovery occurs and we get on with our daily activities. For some, like the elderly, infants or those with a chronic illness or who are immunocompromised, viral illnesses can develop into more severe conditions, like pneumonia. If you are sick, stay home and do not visit persons who are most vulnerable to complications of viral illnesses. Remember, sick children do not belong in school.

 “Chicken soup”, time, rest and fluids are your best actions to help alleviate symptoms of a cold. For an information packet on colds and cold-like illnesses,  District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call 203 248-4528 or request by email, dculligan@qvhd.org