I have not been sick in a few years, but my immune system of steel recently found its kryptonite – my favorite toddlers in the whole world, whom I was lucky enough to see/hug/kiss/chew on over the past couple of weeks. My brain gave me the requisite warnings about avoiding close personal contact with small people with such runny noses, but my soul would not allow me to avoid such deliciousness, so I threw caution to the wind as I savored the delight of the touch of tiny hands on my face, and snuggled and smooched with abandon. And I got a cold.
One of those colds where it feels like the linings of your sinuses are on fire, where each sneeze intensifies the soreness of a post-nasal-drippy sore throat, and where you still have a reasonable amount of energy to get things done, and are not nearly sick enough to elicit a great deal of sympathy, but still feel pretty cruddy. So since I have been so exquisitely reminded of how it is to have one, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about dealing with the inevitable, occasional cold.
First, avoidance is best. Try as much as possible to keep your hands (and other people’s hands, as was my mistake) away from your face, since cold viruses intrude into your system mainly through your nose (and through your eyes, since they are washed by tears internally down into your nasal passages). Wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer) frequently, especially after being out in public (where lots of people with colds are milling about), after contact with someone who’s sick, and before eating. Try to eat healthily, stay active, and keep hydrated.
And then, when you get a cold anyway, you can deal with it symptomatically. There are mixed results of studies on remedies like Airborn or echinacea or zinc, as to whether or not they actually help. If you have something that seems to work for you, just run it by your doctor (since not every “natural” or “herbal” remedy is safe for every person) before using it, and be sure not to use more than what is recommended on the package or by your doctor. This past week I tried an over-the-counter decongestant, and I found it to be helpful. But just because a medication is available over-the-counter does not mean that it’s safe for everyone – always check with your doctor (and pharmacist) to make sure any medications are safe for you and safe to use with any other medications you may be taking.
I found hot tea (either black tea or mint tea, depending on how close to bedtime it was) to be soothing, and the steam helped to clear my sinuses a bit. Extra pillows helped me position myself so that my sinuses did not fill up immediately upon getting into bed. Hot, steamy showers helped me feel considerably better. When I had to walk outside in the dry, windy, frigid air, it helped immensely to hold a scarf over my mouth and nose, since it kept the air I was breathing warm and moist (note: if you do this, I would highly recommend using a scarf that you can throw in the washing machine).
To avoid sharing your cold with others, it helps to keep a few feet away from people when possible. Cover sneezes and coughs with a tissue/napkin/paper towel large enough to cover the spatter area (when you have a cold, sneezes and coughs tend to be fairly high-output), but make sure to use a soft tissue to wipe your nose, since paper towels can be very rough. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after each time you touch your face, wipe your nose, sneeze, or cough, but do not make the mistake that I recently made of ignoring when your hands begin to get dry. The only benefit of waiting until your hands are uber-dry and red to care for them is that when you finally put the moisturizer on them, the searing, burning pain on the backs of your hands will take your focus off of your sinuses for a couple of minutes. Better you should use a little moisturizer on your hands after each time you wash them to prevent this.
Once your cold nears its end, there will likely be dried remnants left in your shnoz. Keep in mind that manually attempting to remove these is the most common cause of nosebleeds. Taking a steamy shower helps loosen things up so that a gentle nose blow can clear things out.
Call your doctor if at any time you feel like you have anything more serious than “just a cold” (e.g. fever, extreme symptoms) or if it hangs on for longer than you would expect it to (a week or so). Wishing you good health!