Your nose is stuffy, your throat is scratchy, and your head is pounding. Is it a cold or the flu?
They’re both respiratory illnesses that make you feel sick and miserable and although they may share some similar symptoms, they’re actually quite different.
Here are some basic guidelines to help you identify if what you have is a cold or the flu.
Cold- Slow and gentle
A cold can be caused by more than 200 types of viruses, and they attack the respiratory tract - the most common one is rhinovirus.
It often starts with a sore throat, and may spread to you developing a mild fever and a headache. The classic symptoms of a cold however are a blocked nose, sneezing and a hacking cough. A cold comes on slow and mild but can have you feeling more tired than usual for 2-10 days.
Flu – Fast and furious
If you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, absolutely drained and just want to stay in bed, then what you’ve caught is probably influenza, better known as the flu.
The flu comes on very suddenly and its symptoms tend to be more intense and more serious than the cold. It is usually caused by very contagious viruses and one who has caught the flu is usually confined to the bed with a bad fever, severe headcahes, bad cough, sore throat and to top it all of, a general achiness all over the body. The fever can last from 3-5 days but the recovery period for the flu is longer than for the cold – you could take up to several weeks to fully recover and be back in tip-top condition.
The flu can also develop into more serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis and if left untreated, even death.
How are they spread?
Both the cold and the flu are spread by airborne viruses and are highly contagious. So it is always best to keep the infected person away from others, especially from children.
If you have symptoms like chest pain, difficulties breathing, and a persistent high fever, then you may want to take a trip to the clinic. As mentioned though, both these illnesses are caused by viral infections and as such, although antibiotics is a popular prescription (check out natural alternatives to antibiotics), it tends to work well for bacterial infections and not viral infections so it won’t be of much help.
While some of the over-the-counter medicines may help to relieve the symptoms, they often have side effects like drowsiness.
So will natural remedies help?
Yes, Mother Nature does have some remedies that will not only give you relief but also speed up your recovery process.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Eucalyptus oil has powerful medicinal properties such as anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial and it is also a decongestant. It is very effective for treating a number of respiratory problems such as cold, cough and excellent for nasal congestion.
Inhaling steam with eucalyptus oil can offer instant relief from a blocked nose and also kill harmful microorganisms so you can heal faster.
- Boil a pot of water and remove from heat. Put pot on a stable surface or transfer water to a bowl and place on stable surface.
- Add 10 drops of eucalyptus essential oil, drape a bath towel over your head and breathe deeply for 5 minutes. (Remember that the water is hot so be careful to not scald yourself)
- Alternatively you also can put 10 drops in a diffuser in your bedroom before going to bed so you get a good night’s sleep and also reap the healing benefits while you snooze.
Influenza spreads more easily in a dry environment, thus increased humidity in your room may reduce the exposure for others to this virus.
Sea salt water is very good for internal cleansing. Spraying salt water into your nose or gargling with it can loosen up mucus, helping you to get rid of it. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that help to alleviate the swelling of the throat and promote healing.
How to: You can try over-the-counter sea salt spray or make your own (see below). Spray 3-4 times a day or gargle sea salt water 3-4 times a day.
Make you own sea salt water: 1 x teaspoon of sea salt into 2 cups of warm water.
Garlic is one of the most popular home remedies for colds. It has been used across different cultures for its medicinal properties. The active compound in garlic which is known as allicin has demonstrated antibacterial and antiviral properties. You should crush or chop the garlic before consuming it so that the cells will rupture and cause the creation of allicin. It is best eaten raw.
How to: Chop or crush garlic and let it sit for 5-10 minutes for the chemical reaction to take place. Consume it on its own or add some raw honey to make it more palatable if needed.
Echinacea has been used for centuries in a variety of forms to prevent colds and fight respiratory infections. It has strong anti-inflammatory properties, supports the immune system by significantly increasing certain immune responses and inhibits viral activity.
How to: It is best to take it at the first sign of a cold or flu. You can consume it in the form of a tea, or you also can buy them in supplement form from your local pharmacy.
While Vitamin C is best known as a powerful antioxidant, it is also a vitamin that is very important for the immune system. It has antiviral activity, boosting our immune system. The key is you need to load up Vitamin C beyond your daily maintenance dose while you are sick. When inflammation or infection occurs such as cold or flu, our level of vitamin C drops just when your body needs it to combat the infection, which is why it only makes perfect sense that you need to increase your intake of Vitamin C when sick.
How to: Take 500mg every hour, up to 3-5g per day, and ease back to your usual dose as symptoms improve.
Believe it or not, those annoying symptoms you experience are part of the natural healing process. So try some of the remedies above and trust your body’s ability to heal. And of course, drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest!