Common Cold Remedies/Myths that Make You Sicker

March 7th, 2017

shutterstock_621921527I see people with colds, flus, sore throats, and sinus infection on a daily basis all year round.  People have all sorts of home remedies and trust certain over the counter medications to make them feel better.  However, some of these can actually make you sicker and impede your body’s ability to fight off infections.

Here is a list of some remedies you didn’t know could be making you sicker:

  • Tea with lemon-  Lemon can be very acidic and exacerbate conditions such as acid reflux.  Many studies have shown that asthma-sufferers can actually see improvement if they adopt a low acid diet or take medications to reduce acid in their stomach.  The pH of lemon is low enough to even “burn” your throat if you consume too much and can even cause a sore throat or cough.  I recommend ginger tea with honey instead.  Honey can actually help your immune system.
  • Apple cider vinegar- Just as with the lemon, vinegar is extremely acidic and can cause more trouble with digestion.
  • Cold medications to help you “sleep”- There is one very popular brand that starts with an “N” and rhymes with “quill” which I find is the overwhelming choice among patients.  However, this medication contains an antihistamine (like benadryl), and cause fatigue, sleepiness and drowsiness the next morning.  So you may think these symptoms are due to the cold or flu virus, but you are actually experiencing a side effect of the cough suppressant!  If you must take this type of medication to fall asleep, I would recommend drinking something with caffeine the next morning to reverse the effect.
  • Excessive Vitamin C-  This is one of the most common errors I see in my practice.  People take excess vitamin C in pills, lozenges, or packets that they mix with water and drink.  The are also sold as supplements that you take before you get on an airplane flight supposedly to prevent yourself from getting sick.  Sometimes the dosages can be 600% more than the recommended daily dosage!  Vitamin C is essentially Citric Acid.  Yet again, another acid!  It can easily cause reflux and sore throat.  Even worse, high doses can cause an attack of gout (a joint disease caused by excess uric acid) and formation of kidney stones!  Can you imagine taking vitamin C for a simple cold and ending up having to go to the ER for a kidney stone!  These medications may be sold over the counter, but they should still be used with caution.  Sadly, there has been no scientific study that shows Vitamin C has any benefit in preventing or mitigating cold or flu symptoms.
  • Ginger Ale-  Many people think ginger ale is equivalent to ginger tea.  It is not.  Most commercially marketed “ginger ale” contains no or minimal ginger extract.  Ginger ale is often carbonated, which means there is carbonic acid, also not good for acid reflux sufferers and the gas can create uncomfortable bloating.  In addition, ginger ale contains excessive amounts of sugar with over 140 calories per can.  Sure you want to feel better, but if you have issues with high blood sugar this can certainly make you feel sicker.
  • Decongestants- These are effective medications if you have sinus congestion.  They can cause your heart to race and blood pressure to increase.  Accordingly, people with heart conditions and/or high blood pressure should avoid decongestants.  In some people, they can even precipitate insomnia and panic attacks!
  • “Starving a Cold”-  This is part of the old saying “Starve a cold, feed a fever.”  You should never starve when you are ill.  To fight off an infection, you need a healthy immune system.  Hydrating with liquids and eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants and protein is a necessity!
  • Don’t exercise when you’re sick-  This is partly true.  If you have a fever, chills, shortness of breath, or a pneumonia, exercising is not advisable.  However, after a few days of rest some light exercise can help you get better quicker.  Jumping up and down during exercise can jostle the phlegm or secretions in your nasal passages an airways so you can clear them out quicker.  Increased circulation to the body also improves your immune system.  I recommend going at a slower pace than you usually go (about 50% slower) and for half the usual duration.  It’s important to stay hydrated during the workout.
  • “Toughing it out”- Many people feel the need to go to work even when they are very sick.  I think this is unwise for several reasons:  1. You will get your coworkers sick as you are likely to be highly infectious (you never want to be known as THAT person who spreads the cold to the whole office).  2. You will wear your immune system down when you need to be recuperating, 3. You will likely stress your body out and expose yourself to other potentially deadly bacteria (this is how colds turn into pneumonias) during your commute to work.  4. You will not likely be productive at work when you are not feeling well.  If you got better sooner, you could be back at work earlier and much more productive.  5. If you get sicker at work (due to being dehydrated or pass out), you will likely be taken to the hospital or unable to get home safely.  This could mean you have to lie in a chaotic emergency room for many hours.  Wouldn’t it be nicer to be at home in your own bed with chicken soup and your favorite Netflix movies?  Here are some movie suggestions!