Question Answered by Tamara Cox, RN, Eastern Idaho Public Health Department
Is it feed a cold and starve a fever, or is it starve a cold and feed a fever? In the past, that was the main concern when dealing with the dreaded cold. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) there are over 200 different viruses that can cause the characteristic runny nose, cough, sore throat, and sneezing that most people experience (CDC, 2009).
Today we are given information from talk shows, social media and friends about herbal remedies and other vitamins. Zinc, Echinacea, and Vitamin C are some of the most popular treatment options discussed. Research is continuing to be done to find out if these remedies work, but so far they are just not sure.
Zinc: The evidence for zinc as a cold remedy is mixed. Many years of research has been done, but so far it is inconclusive if it helps to shorten the duration of a cold. Some trials have shown a significant decrease in the number and duration of colds per year in individuals taking zinc lozenges and supplements, but other show no difference between zinc and the control (placebo) groups. According to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) evidence rankings, zinc lozenges are considered “possibly effective” for reducing the length of the cold. The NIH also reports that zinc pill supplements and nasal sprays are probably not useful for preventing colds. Please check with your healthcare provider before using zinc preparations.
The downside to using zinc is that it can cause a metallic taste, local irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other problems. It can interact with many medications and natural supplements. The use of zinc nasal sprays can cause permanent loss of smell. Overuse can cause coughing, fever, stomach pains, fatigue, and problems with blood iron levels. In large doses, zinc can be fatal.
Echinacea: Echinacea has been used for centuries by Native Americans to treat colds. There are nine species of Echinacea, but the most common type is Echinacea purpurea. Despite its popular use as an herbal remedy for colds, scientific studies on Echinacea has been contradictory. The NIH states that the current evidence suggests Echinacea is “possibly effective” for modestly reducing cold symptoms, but not for prevent colds. Some research studies do report a possible effect of Echinacea on minimizing the occurrence and severity of colds. Other studies show a total lack of impact of Echinacea on the occurrence of severity of colds. It also complicates the results due to variations in Echinacea preparation methods, dosages, and purity. With the conflicting studies, it is hard to claim that it has consistent positive benefits of treatment of the cold.
The downside to using Echinacea can cause allergic reactions that can be life-threatening. People with allergies to the ragweed family should avid Echinacea because of its similar natural properties. Echinacea can also cause stomach discomfort, nausea, muscle aches, dizziness, headaches, sore throat and rash. It can also cause complications in people with autoimmune disorders and is not recommended for use by pregnant women. Individuals on liver medications or immunosuppressant should avoid Echinacea until they can talk with their healthcare provider.
Next Week: Will Vitamin C help me get over my cold?
Cover Your Cough
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.
Materials: Three hula hoops, 2 round balloons, 100 pieces of confetti (represents cold viruses), one tack, piece of paper
- Lay the three hula hoops end to end to make a line.
- Fill each deflated balloon with 50 pieces of confetti.
- Blow up each balloon and close them with a knot.
- Stand at the outside edge of the first hula-hoop with one filled balloon in your hand.
- Pop the balloon with the tack.
- Count the number of confetti pieces that land in each of the hula-hoops.
- Sweep up the confetti up and repeat Steps 4-6 with the other balloon, but this time have someone hold the piece of paper in front of the balloon so that the paper is between the balloon and the hula hoops.
Did the paper block the confetti from spreading? Would a tissue block cough and sneeze droplets from spreading?