The Dr. Is In

This new column covers naturopathic and acupuncture topics and will also appear the fifth Friday of March, June and September.

Wintertime in Hawaii is a special time. The ocean and skies change. Visitors join us from near and far for celebration. With large gatherings and stress of the holiday season, immunity can wane while microbes thrive.

When symptoms of cold or flu begin, there are steps you can take to support your immune system to shorten the duration of the illness or avoid becoming sick altogether. The sooner you can intervene, the better. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed in special circumstances such as to prevent rheumatic fever after strep throat or to prevent a secondary infection.

Steps to minimize contraction or duration of cold or flu

Sore throats and inflamed mucous membranes can be soothed by a warm salt-water gargle or 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt in one cup of warm water. Gargling three or more times a day will provide comfort as well as decrease microbes. If you are a little more adventurous, try this gargle syrup: 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1 teaspoon vitamin C powder, 1 teaspoon honey and pinch of cayenne. This can be used as a gargle warm or at room temperature.

Hydrotherapy is therapy with water in all its forms: warm, hot, cool, cold or steam. Some helpful uses are mild steam inhalations using aromatic kitchen herbs such as oregano, sage or thyme, a warm footbath, or warm compresses for the sinuses, throat or chest. Use care with steam inhalations as steam can burn skin and mucous membranes at high temperatures.

Drink fluids! This will help your body remove waste products from the pathogen by thinning mucous so that it can move out rather than staying within the body where it forms a nice place for microbes to multiply. Filtered water, herbal tea, broth, soup, or fruit juice diluted with water are all good choices. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and sweet drinks laden with sugar.

Keep your air clean. Invest in an air filter. Avoid smoking or second-hand smoke. If the air is particularly voggy, keep windows closed for the day. Have a moldy house? Open all the windows. Anything that may be an irritant to the respiratory tract, including perfumes, incense and some essential oils should be avoided.

Eating lightly but nutritiously will conserve energy that needs to go to the immune response. Avoid foods that cause congestion such as dairy, or foods that you personally have intolerance to that drain energy needed to fight pathogens.

Of course, prevention is by far the most effective way to skip or minimize the flu bug. Viral infections are spread mostly by direct contact. Implement the old standard of washing hands with a vigorous rubbing and wringing motion under running water for 20 seconds.

In addition, being diligent about keeping hands away from the face, and not sharing utensils, toothbrushes, or lip balm can greatly decrease your chances of contamination. Frequent laundering of clothing, bedding and towels, especially for those sharing rooms or bathrooms, can also be helpful.

Early intervention for a couple of days may prevent you from being down for a week later on. The sore throat, sniffles, mild fever, headache or congestion are signs that the body is doing its best to protect you from the pathogen taking hold.

Once you begin to feel run down, your body sends all of its energy toward creating immune cells to fight off the virus. This is the time when rest is essential. Pushing yourself to complete projects or go to work only allow the pathogen to multiply, leaving the body with a stronger battle.

See your health care provider for recommendations on immune-boosting supplements, herbs and other remedies specific to your condition.

Dr. Shanon Sidell is a licensed naturopathic physician and classical five element acupuncturist, blending Eastern and Western Medicine in her West Hawaii practice. In her spare time, she teaches aerial circus arts classes to people of all ages, fitness levels and elements. This column is not an attempt to provide specific medical advice, and it should not be used to make a diagnosis or to replace or overrule a qualified health care provider’s judgment. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with a qualified and licensed physician or other medical care provider, and follow their advice.

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