Cold and Flu: What Can You Do?

At some point in the fall, people start worrying about cold and flu season. How bad will it be this year? Should I get a flu shot? Will I miss work or school? I don’t want to take a flu shot, is there some more holistic way to protect myself? Each and every year some level of heightened concern is palpable in many people and I receive the predictable set of questions.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

My very first response is an obvious one. It bears repeating since many of us ignore it although we are very clear that it matters: we must take care of ourselves well if we want to avoid winter illness.

Taking care of ourselves includes eating well. Eat fresh, whole foods, focusing primarily on vegetables and high quality protein and fat sources. Avoid processed foods and sugar as they reduce your immunity. We have all heard that vitamin C boosts our immune system’s ability to hold off the colds and flu, and in the last two years, many studies have shown that enough vitamin D is also a very important factor.

It also includes keeping ourselves well hydrated. It is no mistake that chicken broth or other soups or warm teas are what so many people turn to for a cold or flu.

Stress is no stranger to this discussion. We know that pushing ourselves unduly without enough rest and relaxation leads to certain demise in cold and flu territory, and yet, it is still hard for many of us to choose to slow down before our throats become scratchy and our noses drippy.

Hygiene may seem to be for the fuddy duddies and the overly compulsive, until you are laid flat and moaning. It is shown that a few more hand washings, especially before you touch your face or eat food, really does help. Why not take that extra two minutes? Plain soap and water are best for you, the rest of us and the planet. Please sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, not into the hand I am going to shake or grab the doorknob after. Get out into the fresh air and do some mild exercise and at the very least, open those windows, keep the fresh air flowing and let the sunshine in (if you have some).

I will not address the issue of flu shots here, except to comment that in my professional opinion and experience, the healthiest immune systems have opportunities to fight disease, and losing that opportunity can contribute to long term chronic disease. Any more discussion of this belongs on the topic of vaccinations in general.

From the standpoint of homeopathy, there are a few things that you can do to prevent flu and cold season from penetrating your defenses. Influenzinum and Oscillococcinum are two homeopathic remedies that can keep your susceptibility to cold and flu down. The principle is similar to the principle of vaccination, only without the needles, the questionable ingredients and without bypassing of the body’s natural boundaries of defense.

Studies have shown that people who use influenzinum seasonally contract the flu at rates of 5% to 10%, while the general rates of contracting the flu are 10% – 20%, depending on the year and various other factors. German and French studies report statistically significant quicker full recoveries from people using Oscillococcinum for the flu.

To use influenzinum preventatively, you can use a potency between 9C and 200C. A 9C is generally taken 1 dose/week for four weeks at the beginning of flu season, then biweekly for the rest of the season. Potencies around 30C are generally taken once per week for the first four weeks, then monthly thereafter. 200C potencies are usually taken two times in the first month, then once monthly for the remainder of the flu season (this also applies to Oscillococcinum which is also a 200C potency remedy). See Taking Homeopathic Remedies for details about taking remedies.

A Smidgen of the Most Similar Remedy is Worth a Ton of Relief

Often when colds or flu begins, the symptoms are very nebulous, there aren’t many clear symptoms to go on. People often describe a vague sense of “coming down with something”. Their energy is low, their throat may feel “funny”, their eyes may feel tired, their body may feel heavy and they just want to lay down. “Hello, are you listening? This is your body speaking to you. Zip your lips, lower your lids, and take some time in the horizontal position or else!”

On the way to bed, you might consider Oscillococcinum. For most people, taking Oscillococcinum within the first twenty-four hours of the above described scenario averts the flu altogether, or at least results in a very mild version that they are soon through. My general recommendation for Oscillococcinum is to take a dose (not the whole vial!) at the very first sign of the “coming down with something” feeling, and to repeat a dose every two hours until feeling clearly better or until five doses have been taken. If it clearly helped, it should be repeated only when the symptoms are noticed to worsen again, and can be used as needed as long as it keeps helping. If there is no noticeable difference after five doses, discontinue using the remedy. See Taking Homeopathic Remedies for details about taking remedies.

If Oscillococcinum never helped or stops helping, don’t despair, there is still hope! You probably will benefit from a different homeopathic remedy.

Homeopathy works on the law of similars. Simply put, what a substance can create it can also cure, if you know how to use it. The way to use it to cure is by considering all of the symptoms (or changes from the norm) and by taking it in very small doses.

In the case of colds and, especially flu, the following remedies have their own “fingerprint” for how they appear. If you match the remedy fingerprint to the one of the suffering person, you may well be amazed by the results.

Gelsemium is characterized by extreme heaviness, weariness, weakness and trembling. The onset is usually gradual and insidious. The eyelids often droop. The person may have chills running up and down the spine. They are dull and apathetic, too fatigued to respond. They are generally not very thirsty, and better for open air and movement (although they are disinclined to do it).

Bryonia may as well be known as Dry-onia. Dryness is a major feature of this remedy, the person may have a dry throat, mouth, nose and a great deal of thirst. The other very clear distinguishing feature of Bryonia is worse for motion. Any complaint that Bryonia is suffering is generally made worse by motion. In case of flu, this may be a headache that is worse for moving the head, or body aches that are worse for moving or a dry cough that makes the chest hurt when coughing. Although they tend to want to keep very still, they are also restless and can’t get comfortable. They are irritable and cranky and don’t want to talk (worse motion).

Eupatorium perfolatum comes on suddenly, with a deep aching bone pain as if the bones are broken and the joints are dislocated (ouch!). They are compelled to move (but it doesn’t make them feel better), restless and unable to sleep. They complain about the pain and feel sorry for themselves, and for them, talking helps. They may feel stuffed up, be sneezing and have their nose running all at the same time.

So you see, the pictures of these remedies overlap each other, but each is its own distinct way of being ill. There are numerous other remedies for colds and the flu, but these three appear reasonably often.

A homeopathic kit is a really nice item to own so that you have remedies on hand when you aren’t feeling well.

Enough: Knowing when to say when

It is important to recognize serious symptoms and get help if your condition is beyond the scope of your ability to work with. Serious symptoms warrant immediate medical attention.

In children, some common serious symptoms include fast or troubled breathing, skin turning bluish or gray, persistent or severe vomiting, not drinking enough fluids/signs of dehydration, being unusually hard to wake up or not interacting, being so irritable that a small child doesn’t want to be held, and flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.

In adults, some common serious warning signs include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, persistent vomiting, sudden dizziness, confusion, and flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.

If the symptoms are not responding to your choice of remedy, but are not serious enough to warrant immediate medical attention, call your homeopath. There is a good chance a well indicated remedy can help the body’s innate healing mechanism get on the road to recovery.