Each month, we pitch a new question to our staff and readers. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, email it to us. This month we asked: What is your cure for the common cold?
My mother watches Oprah and long before Whole Foods made “echinacea” a household word she spent the ’70s immersed in crunchy food co-ops and yoga. So anyway, yeah: She digs homeopathic medicine. Some of her suggestions are just odd (dried cherries before bedtime?) but a few puncture through my stubborn Theraflu-loving worldview: Years ago she passed along a suggestion from Andrew Weil to eat raw garlic at the first sign of a cold. I do this happily, because I love raw garlic. (And it helps. Or I think it helps. Or whatever, I dig garlic.) But the harder sell was this damn Neti pot. Man, I didn’t want to use that thing. Ugh. Dripping salt water through my nose is gross, and weirdly humbling, and it reminds me of being caught in the Atlantic Ocean undertow as a kid. Oh, and it’s gross. Did I mention it’s gross? But after a cold that I could not shake for literally a month, I had eaten my fill of raw garlic, guzzled my way through packs of Theraflu and Nyquil. I was a desperate woman. So I got a damn Neti pot. Do I hate it? I do. Do I curse it? Fuck yeah. Do I have a cold? I do not. Lesson: Sometimes, you gotta suck it up, and listen to your moms.
Quantum Super Tonic: a cider vinegar dram of garlic, onion, horseradish, ginger, and cayenne pepper, straight up on the tongue from a medicine dropper. ’Nuff said.
I wouldn’t class it as a cure, but a combination of hot soup (lentil is a favorite), homemade ginger tea, Strepsils, and a ton of water has never failed to ease the symptoms. And being a singer, the moment I start to feel cold-y, I run at the sight of milk.
Oh to have merely a “common cold!” How I yearn for the quaint maladies of the sniffles, a runny nose, and the odd sneeze. I look at my bleary-eyed brethren in the office (from a safe distance, naturally) and envy their run-of-the-mill sickness and over-the-counter cures. A scarf and some tea, paracetamol, and a nice lay-down. Against the malignancy that is Man Flu these are mere bows and arrows against the wind. I myself have survived severe Man Flu (anything less than “severe” when describing a case of M.F. is an oxymoron) and I can say that the only known cure is an elaborate, almost voodoo-like ritual. The immune loved ones of the inflicted (mothers/girlfriends/wives) gather together and repeat the mantra “get up there’s/nothing wrong with you, get up/there’s nothing wrong with you, get up…” over and over while huffing uncontrollably and rolling their eyes at your request for them to pop down the shops for “one last packet of Jaffa Cakes before I die!”
My cold symptoms usually start with a runny nose and aches. As soon as possible, I will cook the spiciest curry I can manage, and consume it with passion and plenty of water. While I’m sick I’ll stay away from alcohol, but cheerfully eat and eat lots of bad things: sugary, carbohydratey things that I shouldn’t be eating. But I deserve them. Because I’m sick, dammit.
I learned a lot during the months of college that I lived with a little old lady in Spain. I learned that mayonnaise was an appropriate topping for fish, and I learned that when you’re feeling sniffly, you should slice a raw onion in half and put it on your bedside table overnight. That cold will clear up fast—not from the remarkable effect it will have on your sinuses, but because it will simply chase la gripe right out of you.
My colds are usually the type that sit in your nasal passages and don’t budge. So when I feel a runny nose coming on, I immediately change my sleep schedule to eight or nine hours a night and drink about three Nalgene bottles of water per day. It staves off the typical sinus infection/congestion and I don’t wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath. I can’t say that the symptoms completely disappear, but I’m able to function normally with a box of tissues by my side and I don’t get that run-down, depressed feeling. All the fluids also helped stave off that chapped nose problem from too much blowing! I also make sure to eat three meals a day even if I have lost my appetite. The lack of fuel can really make for a slow recovery.
I used to chew a clove of raw garlic, then swallow it like a pill with echinacea drops in warm water. This did not seem to affect the cold at all, but did momentarily distract me, as I felt like vomiting. Nowadays, for prevention I try to use a Neti pot daily and take vitamin D. I wash my hands, use hand sanitizer (one at every sink), and don’t share my kids’ food. When I do get a cold, I take extra vitamin D (3,000 IU instead of the daily 1,000), Sambucol elderberry syrup, and Emergen-C, more because I like the fizz and taste of it than because I feel it’s effective. Last fall both my kids and husband got H1N1; I didn’t, even though I cared for all three of them. After New Year’s, all three got the stomach flu; I didn’t. What I’m doing seems to be working.
Despite my suspicion of all things herbal, homeopathic, and homespun, my physiological reaction to the signs of impending illness can be effectively stopped in its tracks by the mere sight of a packet of pills. The therapeutic effect of the rattle of capsules against foil, or of the soft psssshhhh of an effervescing tablet of co-codamol has been known to slow the approach of a virus and quell the onset of a temperature. Even the act of buying a remedy from the pharmacist will embolden my immune system, while I have lost count of the number of times I have made myself a cool, fizzing glass of headache remedy or a hot mug of honey and lemon and then feel my symptoms melt away while the beverage itself is forgotten. The power of the placebo is undeniably strong.
Clementines. I eat them like potato chips. I keep a crate by my bed, and often wake up with an imprint of a peel on my cheek. But I never get sick.
In the midst of the cold and flu season, the best offense is a good defense. I shove away loved ones who have cleared their throats a little too suspiciously and shun snifflers at the office with a stern point toward the hand sanitizer and the exit. Because of this spiky “don’t you dare come near me” approach and the fact that during the peak of the cold season I gobble oranges like a desperate sailor while alone in a sterilized room, I have never been sick. I have probably given myself ulcers from all the citrus I consume, but I have never had a cold. Cough? All this dry winter air! Aches, pains, lethargy? Ex-boyfriends with internet access and an interest in voodoo. I kissed you while I had a runny nose and then you got sick? Well, first of all, it was cold outside, and secondly, you shouldn’t kiss girls whom you don’t intend on calling back. That feeling is not a cold from me, mister—it’s a little thing called karma. And don’t try to use that tired old, “How can I get in touch with you when you’ve thrown your phone in an autoclave?” excuse. If exes can stick pins in my brains through the internet, you can figure out email. But I probably won’t check it. Do you know how many germs are on a keyboard?
I have a whole series of things I do to fight the common cold. First of all, I blow my nose every time I brush my teeth, even if I’m not sick. I blow my nose often in general. I also brush my tongue every night, way back in my throat. When a cold does come, it tends to start with a sore throat, so I try to detect this early. I then increase my water intake by about a factor of four. I also make sure to eat more food than usual. In the night I will gargle with salt water. Warm tea helps, but quantity of water seems to be the deciding factor. I always cultivate my germs, never use antibiotics, antibacterial soap, or hand sanitizer, and I never shy away from anyone with a cold. With this, I normally now get sick four times a year, at the change of each season. I may have had the swine flu when I was in China in 2008—and I kicked its ass.
Chop an entire clove (I said clove, not head) of fresh garlic into vitamin-pill-size pieces—trying not to bruise it too much, it’s the bruising that releases the harsh taste—and, glass of juice in hand, knock it back. All of it, if you are a practiced vitamin-swallower. The quicker you do this, the less you will taste it, and what’s the worst that can happen—you’ll feel some stinging on your tongue. Follow with that nice, tasty juice. I swear, the next day you will be better, and if you are still not cured, a second “dose” will clear up any infection, viral or otherwise, known to man. No side effects, just wellness.
I used to work in a children’s hospital. Children are sticky. Sick children are even stickier. Nevertheless, for some reason every parent in town seemed to be willing to let their sick, sticky children press the buttons in the elevator at the hospital—including the one I had to take to my office on a restricted floor. After catching three colds in my first month there, one of the nurses suggested I started washing my hands every time I got off the elevator. Properly. If hand washing can prevent an antibiotic-resistant staph infection (and it can); it can stop the common cold (and it did).
It has to be echinacea, 15 drops of the purest you can obtain, mixed in a little water, down in one gulp, two or three times a day. Take as soon as you feel the onset of a cold/flu bug. But not before. And stop when symptoms abate, lest it loses its efficacy through overenthusiastic self-dosing. Amazing.
The best way to handle a cold is to avoid getting it in the first place. How? Two things: hand sanitizer (in OCD quantities) and NeilMed Sinus Rinse. An otolaryngologist turned me on to the stuff nearly five years ago. I use the product twice a day, morning and night. The only side effect is that sometimes, say when you bend down to pick up something from the floor, a thin, clear stream of saline may run from your nose. This is sometimes awkward or difficult to explain to witnesses. FYI, don’t Sinus Rinse before sex, unless you plan to remain supine throughout. There’s nothing quite like a spontaneous nasal rill to kill the old mood.
As someone plagued by respiratory infections for the better part of my life, I consider treatment of the sinuses to be a wholly religious exercise. When plagued with an infection, I go through a highly specialized ritual involving three separate phases: psychic decompression, corporeal cleansing, and mindful schvitzing. The first involves avoiding enthusiasm and social engagements in favor of moping around the house while donning an oversized blanket, drinking orange juice, and watching inconsequential televised dreck. The second is my own patented process involving a bubble tea straw, distilled water, a dash of Ouzo, and a chrome open-end hex acorn nut that all goes up the schnozzola. The whole cycle is then finished off by a little steam, exercise, and reading something by Bill Bryson (it helps focus the eye muscles).
First thing is, you should probably stop attending class. You don’t want to get your classmates sick, right? That seminar room could become a bacteria incubator! Swine flu is a serious threat! Next, make sure you get sick with a friend—quarantine stops being fun pretty quickly, and you’ll need someone to watch movies and play Pictionary with while recovering. Canned chicken soup isn’t worth it: The homemade stuff takes practically the same amount of time, and you can over-add ginger and garlic, which I hear are good for you? Couldn’t hurt to add some more. Call your mom in between naps with status updates on the state of your sinuses, and don’t worry about all the homework piling up while you convalesce. Although be careful: When you finally get healthy again, you might need to feign illness to buy the time you’ll need to catch up with those papers.
I used to get sick a lot during cold season. My medicine cabinet was stocked with a multitude of over-the-counter remedies. One day, my boyfriend mentioned my chronic colds and suggested maybe I wasn’t really sick. Initially, I thought, “Well, if I’m not sick, why do I feel so bad?” But I thought about it and realized I was making myself sick. Turns out sometimes dust or weather changes cause congestion, making my mouth open while I sleep and drying out my throat. This was a turning point for me—a sore throat does not mean I have the plague. I quit taking all the drugs, and now I rarely get sick. I wash my hands and use a Neti pot. But most of all, I changed my mind about being sick. That’s my cure for the common cold.
I dose up on vitamin C, eat fruit (apples, bananas, and kiwi for the full spectrum of goodness) and drink lots of fluids (so I feel like I’m flushing out the illness). For a sore throat you can’t go wrong with plenty of hot water with honey and a chunky slice of lemon squeezed in.
If you have no NyQuil on hand, the next best thing is a strong screwdriver or two. That’s three parts orange juice to one of vodka, preferably something top shelf. Remember, cheap vodka gives succor to the virus. Whatever your poison, you’ll want a good 24 hours to sleep it off.
A few years ago, I walked into a health food store looking for juice. GT’s Organic Kombucha appeared to me, a rainbow of bottles at eye level, a health nut’s moonshine in the guise of a thirst quencher. After purchasing it (for $4.50), I opened it on the street. It exploded and I lost a quarter of the contents ($1.12). I took my first sip and was disgusted. It tasted like vinegar. I wondered if there was something wrong with it. But I kept drinking, walking up the East Village. Soon, I felt a tingling in my stomach not unlike the feeling you get from drinking champagne. I looked at the label: a small amount of alcohol existed due to fermentation, it said. Fun! By the end of the bottle, I’d acquired a new taste. I drink smaller amounts of kombucha in tea, or, when I want to feel tipsy at work, I buy GT’s.
My mother always gave me a dose of Black Draught or Fletchers Castoria, and I have carried on that tradition; I always take a laxative to purge the bowels, and that usually does the trick. Ninety-nine percent of illness is owing to constipation. Do not mean to offend.
To the bewilderment of my boyfriend, who consistently contracts the prevailing virus of the season, I hardly ever catch colds. The threat does creep up from time to time, but I can ward it off with good timing and oranges. At the crucial moment when the first prickles of a sore throat appear, I eat an orange. The orange should be large, cold, and cut in the “only logical way”—as described by Dave Eggers in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, “first in half width-wise, then length-wise, ten slices per” (at first, I was incredulous, but they really do taste better that way). Along with hot tea, extra rest, and taking a vow of hermitage for a week or two, it’s basically foolproof. Especially the hermit part.
Lauren Frey Daisley
I hate to sound like a crotchety old man, but there is no cure for the common cold. All you can do is rest when you start to feel sick, eat well, and wait. But since there’s a lot to be said for the placebo effect, I’m going to go ahead and attempt a charitable act here by saying that giving money to Partners in Health or another aid organization that’s on the ground in Haiti will kick your bug immediately.