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Colds & flu

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A cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract that may be caused by a number of viruses, while influenza is a more severe viral infection with symptoms that tend to last longer and include fever.

Symptoms

Symptoms of colds tend to last for around a week, and may include:

  • Sore throat 
  • Watery eyes  
  • Nasal discharge may be runny, becoming thicker as the cold progresses 
  • Sneezing 
  • Cough 
  • Headaches (sometimes due to sinus congestion) 
  • Low-grade fever  
  • Mild muscle aches and fatigue

Flu symptoms are similar, but tend to last longer and may include:

  • High fever, with chills and sweats   
  • More significant cough, fatigue, muscle aches and headache 
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting may occur, especially in children

Causes

Colds and flu are viral infections that are spread through coughing, sneezing and personal contact. Colds are caused by over one hundred different viruses, including rhinoviruses, corona viruses and adenoviruses. Influenza is caused by influenza viruses, including types A, B and C.

Children, older people and those with depleted immune systems (e.g. due to illness or ongoing stress) are more likely to catch colds and flu than others and may experience more severe bouts of infection.

Natural therapies

  • Garlic had traditionally been used to relieve symptoms of coughs, colds, influenza and bronchitis, especially when symptoms include bronchial or nasal congestion, and/or rhinitis (runny nose).     
  • Horseradish had traditionally been used for the relief of symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections such as the common cold. It may be particularly beneficial when sinus congestion is present. 
  • Vitamin C is important for healthy immune system function and may help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms of the common cold. 
  • Vitamin C is sometimes taken in conjunction with other nutrients that also support immune function, such as vitamins E and B6, the mineral zinc, and betacarotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. 
  • Echinacea supports immune function and may help shorten the duration of colds and reduce the severity of symptoms. It has traditionally been used for the symptomatic relief of sore throat and cough associated with the common cold and flu.    
  • Andrographis has traditionally been used for the relief of symptoms of mild upper respiratory tract infections such as colds.  It is indicated when symptoms include sore throat, coughs (especially with thick sputum), fever and debility. 
  • Olive leaf extract has traditionally been used for the relief of the symptoms of coughs, colds, flu and sore throats, and to help reduce fevers. 
  • Cod liver oil is a rich source of vitamin A, which helps maintain the health of the respiratory tract linings, which are the first line of defence against infection.

Diet and lifestyle

  • Manage colds and flu carefully. Untreated, flu can lead to an even more serious condition like pneumonia. There's no 'cure' as such, but bed rest, lots of fluids, and regular small meals will help you recover faster.  
  • Deficiency of key immune system-supporting nutrients (e.g. zinc and vitamins C and E) may increase your susceptibility to upper respiratory tract infections, so it’s important to include plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds in your daily diet.
  • Natural therapists often encourage patients to avoid dairy products as they believe they increase the body's tendency to form mucus. 
  • A humidifier or other form of steam inhalation can be helpful for keeping the mucous membranes of the nose, throat and lungs moist and relieving congestion. Drinking warm liquids can be beneficial for similar reasons. 
  • If you smoke, stop smoking - it damages the tiny hairs lining the respiratory tract called cilia, which form an integral part of the immune system by helping to prevent foreign bodies entering the airways.

Important notes

Consult your healthcare professional if:

  • Your cold lasts for more than 7 days
  • Your mucus is yellow, green, pink, or rust-coloured 
  • Your cough is severe and/or long-lasting and accompanied by shortness of breath, wheezing , chest pains or tightness, a temperature, headache, earache , back and leg aches, fatigue, rashes, or weight loss

Get free personalised advice from our team of qualified naturopaths here