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Counter your cold

Sarah L. Stewart
Kristin AndersonCourtney Carag, a natural doctor at Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic, demonstrates how to use a Neti Pot to irrigate the nasal passages. Warm water and salt are mixed together in the Neti Pot, then poured into the nose; the water drains through the other side of the nose, flushing out the sinuses.
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Like the rumble of a gathering storm, you can feel it coming: a tightness in the back of your throat when you swallow, a few more sneezes than normal. Before long, you’re riding out the common cold.

Americans suffer 1 billion colds per year, according to the National Institutes of Health. That’s about 3.3 colds per person, per year ” and a whole lot of soiled tissues and sleepless nights. Colds, it seems, are the third guaranteed thing in life, and a really bad one can make death and taxes sound more bearable.

The Food and Drug Administration’s findings last month that over-the-counter cough and cold medications are unsafe for children under age 2 (and the jury’s still out for older children) didn’t make things any easier for parents of ailing kids. Even most adult medicines don’t treat the underlying cause of the cold, because most result from viruses, which antibiotics don’t treat. Gregory Costa, a physician assistant at Colorado Mountain Medical, estimates that 80 percent of the colds he sees are viral, meaning the patients’ only defense is to treat the symptoms.

For patients who want to avoid medications, or those who simply want to complement them, alternative remedies can offer some relief. Most fall under the ‘if it doesn’t hurt, try it’ philosophy; some, such as herbal supplements, should be taken only with the knowledge of your doctor or pharmacist, because they are unregulated by the FDA and can interact with prescription medications you may be taking.

“Sometimes they work effectively, sometimes they don’t,” Costa says of alternative remedies. “I recommend things if people are willing to try them.”

If you’re prone to sinus troubles, flushing out your nasal passages can offer some relief, says Dr. Courtney Carag, a natural doctor at the Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic in Edwards who attended a non-traditional medical school. Costa often recommends it, too.

“I think nasal irrigation is great for kind of washing things away,” Costa says.

A Neti Pot, or small teapot-shaped container available at drug stores, is one method for nasal irrigation. Warm water and salt are mixed in the Neti Pot, then poured into one nostril. The solution enters the sinuses and drains from the opposite nostril, taking with it the mucus and irritants that cause congestion. The process is repeated on the opposite side. As opposed to saline nasal sprays, which moisturize passages, nasal irrigation both moisturizes and flushes passages clear.

“If (sinuses are) your vulnerable spot, the Neti Pots are great,” Carag says. She does, however, caution that there may be underlying causes for the sinus problems that need additional treatment.

Nedra Pudberry, one of Carag’s patients, swears by her Neti Pot, which she started using about four years ago. Though the practice grossed her out at first, she decided to give it a try since she’d long suffered from sinus problems.

“It’s really good because it cleans it all out,” Pudberry says. “If you’re congested, it just cleans it all out and you can breathe, literally.”

A 2000 study at the University of Nebraska Medical Center seems to verify what mothers have known for a long time: Chicken soup really does help fight colds.

The research indicated that chicken soup may act as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the movement of neutrophils, the most common white blood cells in the body. The reduction of movement is thought to limit the activity in the upper respiratory tract that produces some cold symptoms.

Though Costa can’t attest to any medicinal properties of chicken soup, staying home and eating a warm bowl of soup does fall in line with a few of his strongest recommendations for getting over a cold: rest and fluids.

Carag recommends a somewhat counterintuitive method for easing congestion, boosting the immune system and aiding sleep: the wet sock treatment.

Wet a pair of socks with cold water and wring out the excess. Put the socks on your feet, then put a pair of dry wool socks over them and go to sleep.

“I know this sounds ridiculous,” she says.

Avon resident Adrienne Perer first used the sock treatment when she and her sons came down with colds in November. Three-year-old Slade and 1-year-old Sax had been sick for two weeks with the worst colds of their lives, which Perer caught as well, when she took them to see Carag. In addition to some herbal supplements and ear drops, Carag suggested the sock treatment.

“It totally sounds weird, but it works,” Perer says. “It totally works.”

After the first night, Sax’s fever broke. After the third and final night of the treatment, both he and his mother were rid of their congestion.

Costa often suggests a similar method to treat coughs: put Vicks VapoRub on the bottoms of your feet, then put socks on and go to sleep.

The blend of herbs Carag gave Perer and her boys contained echinacea, an herb commonly used to bolster the immune system. Though echinacea has not been proven to prevent colds or shorten their duration, Perer believes that it helped.

Costa sometimes recommends echinacea and other supplements such as zinc, ginger and Vitamin C, all of which he’s taken himself.

“If they want to take it, I tell them to take it,” Costa says of echinacea. “I don’t see any downside in taking it.”

He does, however, caution that it can be difficult to know the quality of the herb you are taking. High-quality echinacea, for instance, should produce a brief tingling in the back of the mouth, he says.

Pudberry swears by the liquid herb extract for sinus problems that she got from Riverwalk Health. When she took it for a recent sinus infection, she was better in about a week, while a friend with a similar illness who saw a conventional doctor was sick for four weeks, she says.

“It’s pretty remarkable if you have an open mind to it.”

Sarah L. Stewart can be reached for comment at (970) 748-2982 or sstewart@vailtrail.com.


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