I really don’t believe in jinxes. I like to joke that I do and I do tend to knock on wood whenever I mention some amazing stoke of luck I’ve happened in to. But just last week I was contemplating doing a post on natural ways to treat colds/allergies and I thought, “I haven’t had a cold in years.” So guess what happened only three days later? Yep, I got a head cold. Completely annoying.
I’ve slowly been working towards a more drug-free version of myself, so the idea of pumping my body full of chemicals to treat the foggy head, dripping nose, and lack of energy didn’t appeal to me. I don’t have anything against taking medications in general. I give my kids Tylenol anytime they complain of the slightest ache and my youngest son who is plagued with migraines regularly goes through entire bottles of motrin. My husband is a big fan of allergy medications and my oldest son is on a daily med for his asthma, so it’s not like I’m a hard-core naturalist who never sets foot in the pharmacy. But that’s for them. For me, there are only two drugs that I still take on a regular basis – alcohol and Tylenol. Perhaps if I gave up the former, I wouldn’t need the latter. But I’m not quite ready to take that step. Probably has something to do with parenthood.
So when I started sniffling and sneezing repeatedly, I made a beeline to the grocery store and bought all kinds of vitamin C packed foods. I’ve been pounding through the oranges and strawberries and even ate a pint of kumquats. I made red pepper soup and three pepper salad for lunch. Basically, I started mainlining vitamin C. I also bought a bottle of Echinacea and popped a pill every time I ate anything. The bottle recommended 3-6 pills per day preferably with food. I also tried using zinc lozenges, but found them to be particularly disgusting. Steamy showers and hot tea helped a little too. I read somewhere that garlic is particularly good to fight off colds. I couldn’t bring myself to eat any straight, but I did use it in recipes as much as possible.
Because I believe endorphins flood your immune system with even more powerful ammunition, I went for a long run each morning. When I arrived home my head was clearer physically and emotionally. But the one thing I tried which seems to have helped the most, and I’m still surprised (and maybe embarrassed) to be writing an entire post about, is nasal lavage. I know, just the name sounds kinda gross. I tend to encounter a fairly large number of hippie-like healthy people and they swear by their “neti-pots”. I just smile and am thankful I don’t have sinus issues because having grown up swimming on the swim team each summer I have a strong aversion to water up my nose. But Friday I was desperate and miserable, so I finally opened the Nasaline package that my mother-in-law bought the last time she was here. She told me that purists use neti-pots, but the syringe version is easier to use. She actually bought it for my daughter who was SUFFERING (as only my daughter can) with a stuffed up nose. The nasal syringe shut her up, but she never broke the seal on the package.
The neti-pot teapot-like structure is much more inviting than the giant syringe with the bulbous tip. I called a friend who uses a neti-pot and she happily explained how you tilt your head to the side and pour water in one side and “it just goes out the other”. I struggled to picture it and pressed her for more explanation, but she just kept telling me you simply pour it in one side and it comes out the other. I asked if it ran all down your face and made a mess and she said “No”. I tend to spill my tea water just aiming for a cup, I can’t imagine aiming for a nostril, while tilting my head sideways over a sink. I asked if it felt like when you get water up your nose at the pool and she said, “not really”. Not really? Either you get that awful burning water up your nose feeling or you don’t, there doesn’t seem to be much leeway for “not really”. So I read the directions on my Nasaline package skeptically and looked at the picture of the woman with a syringe up her nose registering no expression of pain. It seemed simple enough, albeit pretty gross.
The “water” you use is actually homemade saline – water plus salt. My Nasaline system came with prepackaged salt (1/2 teaspoon to one cup), but according to Mayo Clinic, you should use ¼ teaspoon for 2 cups of water. It’s a good idea to used noniodized salt since you don’t need to be adding iodine to your system and some people have iodine allergies. And you definitely want to use warm, rather than hot or cold water. Tap water is fine.
Once you have your mixture of warm water and salt, the directions said to squirt in one nostril and it runs neatly out the other, unless it doesn’t. In very non-alarming language, the notes said that sometimes the water could come out your eyes and several hours later your nose might start dripping, but this was all to be expected. It instructs you to breathe through your mouth normally or say “Ahhh” as you push the plunger. Apparently our bodies are designed to protect us from drowning from water up the nose and the palate involuntarily closes. This must be why it’s safe to use the blue bulb squirty thing they sent home from the hospital with my new baby kit. I never used it because I was too afraid I’d drown my baby, but apparently I couldn’t have.
For the sake of this blog and my own desperation to feel better I took the plunge (literally). I can report that nasal lavage works really well. I truly did feel almost instant relief that lasted for several hours. I used it twice a day. There was a very slight water-up-your-nose burning, but it wasn’t unbearable. Luckily no water out my eyes, but when I did one side I got water back out my mouth which makes we worry that I have a leak in there somewhere. If you tilt your head slowly side to side after you’re finished most of the remaining water will come out. But I have to warn you that the whole process is a bit messy and it’s best done over a sink or in the shower and not wearing your best duds. My friend who told me it isn’t messy was definitely playing with me.
My cold only lastest three days and the symptoms got better each day. Further reading revealed that nasal lavage is useful in the prevention of sinus related infections and for relief from symptoms associated with the excessive use of nose sprays. It’s also a drug-free way to relieve pregnancy congestion. I, for one, am now a believer and will most likely use nasal lavage anytime I feel stuffy. Guess that makes me a real hippie-like healthy person.
I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of myself peforming nasal lavage, (I do have this one teeny, tiny remnant of pride left), but you can watch a video at the Mayo Clinic website, just for fun: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nasal-lavage/MM00552