How to Deal With the Common Cold


Desktop Guide
to Herbal Medicine

Herbal Remedies
 Top 100 Healing Herbs

To begin with, a cold is a rather non-trivial event. It's much more than a nuisance, like some might assert. For example, the author and his wife just returned from what would have been a lovely Christmas family reunion. Instead, we and some of our loved ones experienced the gamut of respiratory issues. It's as if we exchanged diseases rather than presents.
 "Well what did you get?"
 "Oh, I got the strep throat."
 "Wow, all I had was the flu."
 "That's nothing. I received walking pneumonia."
  We had all of these during the reunion. (I had never even heard of walking pneumonia before.) So instead of a memorable time playing in the snow near Hood River, Oregon, most of us were holed up in the vacation house during the gathering. That's pretty non-trivial in my book.

About the books on the right: The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine provides excellent summaries of a great many herbs. The Herbal Remedies: Top 100 Herbs is a magazine-format book that comes out every year, and gives up-to-date information on the herbs that are useful for various applications, for example, colds/flu, sleeping better, allergies, "men's herbs", "women's herbs", and the like.
Clicking on these links takes you to the most current availability and best price on Amazon, and helps to support your Wrackline Blog.

herbal medicine book Top 100 herbs

So in this article. I propose to offer some slightly different information - some of it from the more recent articles in the herbal area - as well as some more subtle nuances of treatment. And I will end the article with some deeper observations/ramblings. If you have read some of my other essays on this blog, you are probably getting used to this by now. It's what the Wrackline Blog is all about.
 By the way, one of the advantages of being an older person is that you can look forward to fewer respiratory diseases. At the age of 70, I find that I get a cold about every 2 years now. After all, there's only 100-200 cold viruses, and by the time you have reached the age of 50-60 or more, you just about seen 'em all.

 A few words on prevention. During the winter months, this is the time to keep your immune system in top shape. For starters, it's well to know where the immune system actually is. It's in the blood, right? You know; all those killer T cells and the like.
 There are many articles nowadays pointing out that 70% of the immune system is in the gut, and is directly related to gut flora - the "good" bacteria. It is the gut bacteria that prompt certain cells in the intestinal mucosa to create the Killer T's, along with immunoglobin A (IgA), and macrophages. They also counteract "bad" pathogens in other ways. This is the reason that you should not take antibiotics lightly. As you probably know, antibiotics have no effect on viral infections such as the cold and the flu. If you have recently had an course of antibiotics, it is absolutely essential to restore this intestinal flora system, perhaps by taking extra probiotics.
 If all this isn't enough, consider that gut bacteria are responsible for 90% of serotonin! That's right. Serotonin, THE "feel-good" neurotransmitter.
 The mucal membranes in the upper respiratory tract are also an important part of the immune system. It has been pointed out that it is not necessarily cold temperatures in winter that promote colds and the flu. It's the drying effect of indoor heat and closed windows. This drys up the mucus in the protective mucous membranes, and the cilia are not as effective in sweeping viruses out of the respiratory tract. The mucous membranes can even develop cracks, which further exposes your physicality to infection. In some homes it might be necessary to use a vaporizer or humidifier during some of the colder days.
 While we are talking about "Sweeping viruses out of the respiratory tract, here's a useful tip: If you sneeze, something's irritating your nasal passages. Stop what you're doing and go blow your nose! You want to immediately remove that irritant, just in case it might be something you don't want. If nothing else, this will help you stop sneezing.


Some suggested foods/supplements/teas for prevention:
Yogurt to help maintain the intestinal flora, particularly if you have recently had a course of antibiotics
Powdered greens drink. An excellent way to start the day.
Fish Oil supplement. This provides you with the Omega 3s, which provide raw material with which you can produce your own anti-inflammatories as needed. This vastly reduces muscle soreness and headaches, as will be covered in the upcoming "eliminating muscle pain" article in the Wrackline Blog.
Vitamin D, among its other benefits, is being touted of late as an immune system supporter. For example, a 2010 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that vitamin D can help to reduce your chances of getting the flu (Ref:
Allegro "Seasonal Well-Being" tea (Whole Foods). This tea contains several herbs that are thought to be "adaptogens", which help your physical form to handle stress.
Celestial Seasonings "Tension Tamer" tea. This is the author's fav. It contains eleuthero, which is an adaptogen, and which the author finds to help enhance a sense of well-being.

Specific suggestions

Consider Elderberry. Try a tablet in the morning and in the evening. Elderberry has been showing up in many recent articles lately, and has been getting a lot of recommendations. Elderberry juice and syrup have been used for more than 2000 years for colds, flu, and coughs. It helps remove toxins by way of its diaphoretic (warming) and diuretic action, and is said to have a decongestant action. The herb is rich in flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. In addition, "these flavonoids in the berry help bind and disarm hemagglutinins, tiny viral spikes which otherwise allow the virus to penetrate cellular membranes." (Ref: The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine) Thus Elderberry has anti-viral properties, and is especially useful if taken immediately upon experiencing the first symptoms of a cold or flu.

The author does not necessarily buy into the big doses of Vitamin C, but if you want some C with your Elderberry, the product "Sambucha" has Elderberry and Vitamin C.

In general, the author prefers and recommends that the less you do to interfere with bodily processes, the better. Your physicality knows what it is doing, even though you might not feel like it knows what it is doing! (But anything, including Medicine's Big Guns, is fair game on The Cough!!)

For example, if you have the initial highly runny nose/sneezing and the like, if you can let this run its course (and not take an antihistamine), you might find that it will last only one day or less. If there is drainage and excessive nasal secretions, usually it's because potential invaders are being expelled. On the other hand, if it gets too rough at bedtime, you could consider a well-placed antihistamine just before retiring. Diphenhydramine (Benedryl) has the significant side effect of making you very drowsy.

Likewise with the internal temperature. If you have a slightly elevated termperature, say 99 or 100, this can actually mean that your immune system is active in eliminating viruses. Recent research has shown that certain lymphocytes are more efficient at a slightly elevated temperature. Thus, unless you are in significant discomfort, try to avoid taking aspirin or acetaminophin, since these act to reduce fever. NOTE: we are talking about slightly elevated temps here! Higher temperatures possibly warrant a call to the doc.

Drink lots of warm water as well as various teas. All this acts like a natural expectorant, and helps keep the internal temperature up. Drinking lots of cold water tends to make you chilled. Warm water might sound disgusting, but you get used to it. Try not to let it, or the teas, be too hot. The throat is highly irritated and too much heat may irritate it further. Think your drink is "warm", not hot? Try pouring a few drops on your palm - not your fingers - they're too used to heat.

This is the time to arm your immune system with the best foods and drinks you can find. Some folks can't eat much when they're down with a cold, but if you can, make it count. Lots of spinach. Some "Green Drinks" or powdered Greens mixes. Fix some nourishing soups, generally with clear broth. This is NOT the time for cokes, other soft drinks, and junk food! Your immune system will then be shooting blanks.

You can't go wrong by gargling as often as possible with warm saline, and ocasionally "snorting" some to clear out the nose. Neti pot salt is fine-grained, as is Hain's large container. Thus it dissolves more easily.

If your room is dry, a portable humidifier/vaporizer significantly helps. Don't have a vaporizer? Then hang a damp towel over a portable clothes rack and place next to your bed.

before after

Some selected items to take during the cold/flu
Elderberry, as described above, can be of significant benefit, especially if started at the onset of a cold or flu
Fisherman's Friend throat lozenges seem to offer a temporary decongestant effect
Thayer's Slippery Elm lozenges act as a demulcent, or coating agent. They may or may not help a cough, but they are useful for the dry throat that ocurrs at the late stages of a cold.
Spinach and other greens are nutritional powerhouses. The immune response is at its best when nourished by such foods.
"Clems", or satsuma mandarins, help throughout the day.
 Add all the garlic you can take to your foods. Garlic has significant antibacterial effect and thus may help prevent sinus infections. Let the garlic sit for about 10 minutes to allow the allicins to combine. This will make them more stable during heating.
 The sea salt is for gargling and "snorting".

Selected good teas to drink
 The Yogi Breathe Deep tea, the Traditional Medicinals Breath Easy tea, and the Traditional Medicinals Herba-Tussin tea all seem to have a decongestant effect, to provide a temporary opening of the airways, as well as to reduce the drainage somewhat. They also include some diaphoretic (warming) herbs.
 The Yogi Honey-Lemon tea seems to help reduce coughing and has an expectorant effect.
Peppermint tea seems to also have a partial decongestant effect.
 The Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat tea provides a demulcent effect, and should help with the dry throat.
NOTE: Many of these teas contain licorice, and might raise your blood pressure a bit. If you already have high blood pressure, check for licorice as an ingredient.

The Cough

And this brings us to the subject of The Cough. If you're like me, the ending phase of a cold/flu is a protracted cough. Some coughing is productive and allows for the removal of spent cells and excess mucous. But somewhere toward the end is the dry, utterly useless, unproductive cough. The one for which you don't dare go out to a store without a bottle of water. The one which keeps you from going to sleep for several hours each night. This is what all the warm water and teas is for. You want to convert the cough. By "convert" i mean that you are replacing the cough with just a productive clearing of the throat. Any time you can succeed in this, the cough stops.

During the cough phase, some well-timed use of the expectorant guaifenesin (Mucinex) can help loosen up the mucous. Get the 600 mg version rather than the extra strength 1200mg version. If you wake up with a cough, you can then take another 600mg tab. Too much (e.g.: 1200mg tabs), particularly near the end, may even exacerbate the cough, by producing too much liquid - hence too much dripping. Small-framed people could even cut a 600 tab in half. Yes, I know. The package warns against this.

Medicine's Big Guns are these:

Tussinex. This is (was?) the most powerful. It's actually hydrocodone. But watch out! It worked great for me years ago but of late it is supplied with an antihistamine. The antihistamine is supposed to help with the "post-nasal drip". But in the author's experience this additional drying only made things worse.

Cheratussin (sometimes supplied as "Virtussin"). This is a bit of guaifenesin (100mg) and some codeine (10mg) per 5 ml dose. This seems to work the best. The usual recommended dose might be 5ml every 6 hours, but some doctors will bump this to 5ml every 4 hours. You (or the cough) can be the judge. . .

Tessalon Perles (Benzontonate). These are useful for a mild cough, perhaps during the day, but not so much at for more pronounced coughs.

Combining the perles and the Cheratussin does NOT seem to work.

Dextromethorphan HBr (not shown). This is the Over-the-Counter cough suppressant. It's described in the notes for the graphic below.

NOTE: There seem to be two kinds of dry coughs:

The "tickle-induced" cough. This is the one which won't let you get to sleep. Each breath slightly irritates the "tickle area" in the throat. This is the one for which the cough suppressants are helpful. You can tell because you can take deep breaths without setting it off.

The dry cough. This is the one which comes up suddenly during in the night or in the morning, when your throat is bone dry. A few sips of water can at times make this one productive. It may persist for several days and get worse in the afternoon/evening, and may be accompanied by quite a bit of post-nasal drip.

Don't STOP taking the cough medicine! TAPER it off! This applies to all meds, herbs, or anything else you are depending on for physical support. You might think, "Oh I did well later in the night and towards morning. So I won't take a cough suppressant until later today". The cough suppressant should probably be taken for a while even though you might think you don't need it. You cannot let the cough get away from you!

Prop yourself up with pillows when you first go to sleep. This reduces the drip and associated tickling of the throat. After a few hours of intermittent sleep, you will finally get tired enough that you can sleep despite the cough. (It might be noted hat there's dripping ALL the time - probably a sign of a healthy, moist mucal membrane system. But we just don't notice it all other times, because the cough reflex is not active.)

The Fisherman's Friend - or other menthol tablets - act as a temporary clearing agent, enough perhaps to allow you get to sleep.

The Allegro Wellness Tea seems to have a drying effect, and seems to help stop the "drip"

medicine's big guns

Medical Science's Offerings:
Delsym: Dextromethorphan Polistirex. Each 5ml contains 30mg Dextromethorphan HBr "equivalant"
Robitussin DM (liquid): Dextromethorphan Hydrobromide plus guaifenesin (an expectorant) in liquid form. Each 10ml provides 20mg Dextromethorphan and 400 mg guaifenesin
Robitussin DM (capsules): Dextromethorphan Hydrobromide plus guaifenesin capsule form. Each tablet provides 10mg Dextromethorphan and 200 mg guaifenesin.
 NOTE: Dextromethorphan Hydrobromide is the standard OTC cough suppressant, and can be quite effective. Note that the "12 hour" Delsym is Dextromethorphan polistirex. Polistirex is an "edible plastic". It is gradually broken down by digestive enzymes to provide the extended effect. Apparently, polistirex is commonly used to provide an extended release. Nicotine gum, for example, is nicotine polistirex. Thus, dextromethorphan HBr is the actual cough suppressant. User comments on several sites indicate that this form seems to be more effective. Also, the two Robitussins with the Dextromethorphan HBr are 4-hour period doses. This gives you more flexibility on when to take the compound.
Mucinex. This contains guaifenesin only. It is discussed more on this page.
Sucrets. These cough drops have menthol, along with Dyclonine, which is an oral anesthetic. They may or may not be useful in numbing the throat for a while. There is a new Sucrets available (May not be in stores yet) which adds a demulcent, in this case pectin. Not shown is Cepacol cough drops. They contain menthol and benzocaine, which is another anesthetic. One variation of Cepacol contains some Dextromethorphan HBr along with the menthol and benzocaine.
 The bottle is an empty container which held Cheratussin. (Don't know about the ramifications of displaying narcotic-based compounds on the Wrackline Blog!) This is the prescription compound, and contains 10 mg Codeine and 100 mg guaifenesin per 5 ml dose. The author finds it to be of significant benefit.
 The smaller bottle is Tessalon Perles, or benzontonate. These are usually supplied as 100 mg or 200 mg capsules. The author finds this to be helpful for a less serious cough, during the day perhaps. As noted above, combining the Perles and the Cheratussin does not seem to work. Note that they should NOT be allowed to dissolve in the mouth, since they can numb the throat in such a way as to make swallowing difficult.
 NOTE: Medical Compound manufacturers have NO qualms about adding:

artificial flavors

artificial colors



The Final Stages

Towards the end, you have the toxin-clearing time. The lungs are being purged. There may be a return to a "productive" cough as the the final toxins are expelled. Also, these toxin clearing times might be associated with temporarily more powerful dripping, more dry cough, and the like. There may be more discomfort, more soreness; you might awake with a headache. All this is caused by the toxins and cellular debris being moved about for disposal. This is another time for drinking lots of liquids, to help in the expulsion of the toxins. Here's an interesting parallel: A nutritional course in "Natural Healing" was describing the "Elimination Diet", which is the one whereby you start by eliminating all six common food sensitivity groups (dairy, eggs, etc). The lecturer noted that, after you have started this diet:

"Between days two and seven, you may start to feel like your symptoms are getting worse, but this is expected. As you clear your body of the toxins, sometimes they flare up". (Ref: The Science of Natural Healing) Course #1986, The Great Courses.

When you awake, the throat may be dry. Drink enough warm water to cause expectoration, to "convert" the cough. Also you might need to do this if you wake up during the night. Also gargle with salt water when you wake up during the night. Sometimes it's not easy when you in the midst of coughing, but try to gargle anyway. The cough suppressants may not be as useful for this cough.

Finally, the cough might persist a bit toward the end, even though the lungs are clear and there's nothing left to expectorate. For this reason, taper off the guaifenesin (Mucinex). As a matter of fact, toward the end, it's a tough call on the Mucinex. Loose, watery drip: not a good time to use Mucinex, since it exacerbates the drip. Dry cough that is unproductive and doesn't become productive even with lots of water: not a good time. Thick material that you can't seem to clear/swallow: might be a good time for the Mucinex.

Informative Links for additional information

A very comprehensive article from The University of Maryland:

Common Cold Introduction

Here's some good information, along with tips, from Dr Mercola. However, I might suggest you ignore the hydrogen peroxide in the ears idea:

Vitamin D and other Simple, Inexpensive Tricks to Cure a Cold.

Going Deeper
 And by the way, why is the phrase "catch a cold"? "Catch"? Why "catch"? If we have a fever, do we say "we caught a hot"?
 We would all love it if Medical Science could come up with a Pill to "cure" colds. Just go to the doc, get a prescription for anacoldcyclene HCL, take one stat and 1 a day for 2 days and it’s gone. But would we? It could be said that a cold gently reminds of our mortality, that we can't just continue to plow through life with big plans and work-related activities and not take some time to just idle out and consider some of the deeper parts of existence.
 In other words, I suppose if we could fix everything (by ourselves, Spirit not needed), few people would then take the trouble to maintain belief in a Being who does not give us big, obvious, visible Signs that prove its existence.
 A cold is a time of our lives where we can't quite regulate our internal temperature. We can't maintain our own heat. That is, we're "cold". Also, we are not "all there" during a cold. Feelings are down - there is simply not the usual depth of feeling. Perhaps, too, we may speak of lack of "inspiration" (in-spir-ation - the taking in of air) due to the congestion. When we are well, we take in air well. Our nasal passages are open, and each breath is rich and full - we take in air both literally and figuratively (taking it in figuratively is "inspiration"). But when we are congested, we do not take in air well; there is a limited exchange of earth and air during these times.
 We are beings of Earth and Air. The part of us that is part of the Air thinks, makes plans, dreams, and occasionally soars; the part of us that is of the Earth understands.
 Also note that the words that came to me were "A cold is a time of life'. "Time of life" is the wording that I will be using in subsequent articles for "mental" issues like depression or schizophrenia. We don't "have" depression. Instead we are experiencing a time in our life in which we don't quite have the upright stance; we are not quite walking in tune with the beat of our heart. Likewise we don't "have" schizophrenia. Instead we are experiencing a time in our life in which we are temporarily out of touch with our physicality.
 Note the Time word: "Temporarily". We are not eternal. Things change. The cold, like the depression or schizophrenia, will pass.
 So we say, then, that we don't "have" a cold, in the sense that a cold is exclusively an "it" that we can't control and can't (at least partially) have some dominion over - as Spiritual Beings that are a part of the Universal Consciousness. A cold is a time in our life in which the appearance is that the microbes and viruses are in control. The reality is that we are in control, but of course that may be hard to believe when we can't even sleep at night due to an unremitting cough.
 Is it all chemical and physical? Do we get a cold because of chemical and physiological changes due to viruses – chemical and physical entities? Or is it because the virus "caught" us at a time of reduced Life-power, a time of low internal heat?
 For example I have taken cold hikes many times on the beach with the shrieking Pacific winds chilling me to the bone and yet did not ‘catch a cold’ but there have been times where cold/hot temperature changes did have an effect. One of those times for me was when I had the start of a cold but stopped it with a good night’s sleep and some green drink, and the like. However, since my kids were visiting, I took a long cold hike in a forested area near Portland and got chilled to the bones, after which I found myself sweating for about 15 minutes in an inordinately hot restaurant waiting for a to-go order. So the cold came back in full force.
 So I will leave unanswered the question "which started first – the reduced Life-Power or the chemical change?" But in any case the chemical and physiological soon take over, both in the case of the cold and in the case of the depression or schizophrenia. And, in the case of the viral-mediated cold, we try to use pharmacology to "cure" the condition but the best we can do is relieve the symptoms. The antihistamines and decongestants relieve the symptoms but they do not cure. And in the case of the depression, some event or a time of unusually low self-esteem catches us at a time of reduced Life-Power. Then the physiological might take over and we find ourselves fresh out of neurotransmitters. The Prosac creates more serotonin but the Prosac does not cure either.

We do the cure. We do it by virtue of our words. We speak the words of healing, and the words have the same creative power as the creative words used by Spirit when It spoke the words of Creation a long time ago.

Copyright © 2016 J.A.