Getting sick always seems to happen at the absolute worst time possible—there’s a big project at work, your in-laws are coming to town, or you’re leaving on a scuba diving trip in a few days. Blaming your kids, coworkers, or kissing companion for contaminating you might make you feel better for a while, but now it’s time to figure out how to get better and fast. Common misconceptions about what we should and shouldn’t do while sick can only prolong the illness. What really works?
Let It Out
Unladylike yes, but your body is turning your nose into a spout and your mouth into an ejector for a good reason. It’s creating extra mucus to flush out the pathogens that are making you sick. When you cough, your body is trying to expel mucus and foreign substances. Take all this within reason, though. If the coughing is so bad that it’s keeping you awake at night or you are going to be close to people you don’t want to affect, you can use a suppressant, which prevents the coughing reflex. If the mucus begins to feel so thick that it’s clogging your throat, an expectorant will thin the viscous substance. Drinking a lot of water and breathing in steam from a shower, a pot of boiling water, or a vaporizer will also help.
Go Home, Mother Theresa!
Everyone hates the sick martyr who drags her ailing self to work, blowing, coughing, and sneezing, leaving heaps of crumpled tissues in her wake. Before heading to work, consider the following. The first few days of an illness are the most contagious, so staying home may mean sparing your coworkers. If you are too achy and tired to be productive, what’s the point? Rest will help you recover more quickly and at home you can cough and blow your nose in peace.
Run, Bike, Swim
Your throat feels tingly and your nose a bit runny but the rest of you is craving exercise. Then do it. Just don’t overdo it. For physically active people, giving up exercise can just compound that sick feeling. Try not to push yourself too hard, focus on low impact exercises and lifting weights, and if you begin to get woozy, stop. In general, exercising with a cold is fine (and can actually help some of the symptoms improve) but strenuous exercising when you have the flu with muscle aches is discouraged. This type of physical stress can further weaken your immune system and prolong your illness.
Don’t Fight the Fever
Just like the mucus your body is excreting, a fever is a symptom that’s part of the cure. Germs can’t take the heat. When your body’s temperature rises, it is creating living conditions intolerable for viruses. Be sure to stay hydrated. But don’t let the fever go unchecked: if your temperature reaches 105, it’s gone too far. If it doesn’t respond to treatment readily, call your doctor immediately.
Steer Clear the Snake Oil
There’s a lot of hype about the healing properties of Echinacea, vitamin C, and zinc. Our belief that herbs, minerals, and vitamins will strengthen our ability to fight off the rhinovirus has created a booming industry, but it’s not clear that they actually work. The bulk of scientific studies have not been able to demonstrate that any of these natural remedies reduce the length or intensity of a cold—nor does chicken soup seem to have any super powers. Sorry, grandma. Rather, stick with eating ample amounts of colorful fruits and vegetables so you can get your vitamins the natural way.
There was a rumor spread by someone who hates cows and cheese that milk and all its wonderful incarnations create mucus. Science has definitively disproved the milk-causes-mucus theory. A glass of milk or slice of pizza will not turn your sniffles into a gusher. The only grain of truth to the myth is the psychological effect. When people who are sick drink milk, they think that it has created more mucus even though tests show otherwise.
The basics you know about getting well, but sometimes ignore:
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
- If you’re tired, rest. Sleep, read, watch TV, do crossword puzzles. The world will not crumble.
- Don’t go boozing. Sure, the “alcohol kills germs” line always gets a chuckle, but it doesn’t work that way inside your body. A little bit is okay (a hot toddy on training wheels, say) but too much will debilitate your immune system.
The best thing to do when sick is one of the most obvious—listen to your body and relax.