By Kealy Mann ND

Somewhere between the months of October to April it happens; you start out with a little cough, maybe a runny nose and a headache. By the next day you feel awful, body aches, can’t breathe through your nose and your voice sounds like some nasally version of your normal self. You must have a cold, or could it be the flu that’s been going around the office, spread with every handshake?

First, the basics. The common cold, less commonly known as rhinovirus, actually has more than 100 different strains which is why we can get one or two, or a few of these things a year. It is an acute infection of the upper respiratory tract (nose, mouth, throat and voice box) and can be contracted by touching contaminated objects or in the air. Because it is a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective in its treatment. If the sore throat is determined to be strep throat then antibiotics may be necessary as it is bacterial in nature.

Influenza, or the flu is another virus that almost all of us have to contend with on an annual basis. This virus has the habit of mutating which is why we don’t tend to have immunity to it from year to year. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, especially in those with compromised immune systems or infants and the elderly.

Signs & Symptoms Influenza Cold
Fever Usually present Rare
Aches Usual, often severe Slight
Chills Fairly common Uncommon
Tiredness Moderate to severe Mild
Symptom onset Symptoms can appear within 3-6 hours Symptoms
Coughing Dry, unproductive cough Hacking,
Sneezing Uncommon Common
Stuffy nose Uncommon Common
Sore throat Uncommon Common
Chest discomfort Often severe Mild to
Headache Common Uncommon


So What Can I do?

Prevention is the key and there are a few things that you can do to avoid getting a cold or flu this season:

  1. Wash your hands: this is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of germs. Avoid shaking hands if possible. Did you know that shaking hands spreads more germs than kissing?!
  2. Eat well: Making sure that you get a balance of healthy foods including colourful fruits and vegetables will keep your immune system strong, so even if you are exposed to a virus you may not become sick. Sugar in particular has a very detrimental impact on our immune system and makes it weaker when exposed to bacteria and viruses. Avoid sugar as much as possible in cold and flu season, and especially if you do get sick.
  3. Homeopathics: There are several options for homeopathics for flu and cold prevention. A favourite of mine is called ‘mucococcinum’ which is available from your naturopathic doctor. It has been shown in double blind studies to be about 90% effective at preventing the flu.
  4. Vitamins: a good multi vitamin can help to keep your immune system ticking along this winter. Vitamin C is also a great preventative, although more recent evidence is showing that it is not all that effective in the treatment of the cold or flu once you are actually sick. Vitamin D, which is produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight (meaning that just about all Canadians are deficient in winter) seems to help us fair better against getting the seasonal flu.
  5. Probiotics: Did you know that about 70% of our immune system is in the gut? Keeping a healthy gut by taking healthy bacteria can help to keep your immune system working properly throughout the winter months (and all the other months too).

If you do get sick there are some basic things that you can do at home and a few things to have on hand before you do get sick. . . just in case.

Of course, you should discuss the use of any natural remedies with your naturopathic doctor first as some may not be safe with certain medical conditions and medications.

  1. Herbs: While there aren’t many options for anti-viral drugs that can be taken beyond the first few hours of the flu, there are quite a few effective anti-viral herbs. Elderberry is one that is commonly known as an anti-flu herb and can shorten the duration of the flu by about 4 days. A blessing when you’ve been glued to the couch all week. Andrographis is a less commonly known herb that is particularly effective at fighting upper respiratory infections.
  2. Homeopathy: There are individual homeopathic remedies that can be chosen based on your symptoms to help you treat the flu. Gelsemium and bryonia are classic examples of flu remedies for a flu that comes on slowly with aching head pain and the person does not want to move. Oscillococcinum is a favourite combination remedy of mine to have on hand in case anyone in your family does get the flu this season. It is easy to take and you don’t have to try to distinguish your symptoms to choose the right remedy. In my experience it can be the difference between having the flu for a few days instead of a week or two.
  3. Hydrotherapy: Warming socks is a treatment that most patients don’t love to do, but can be very effective at clearing congestion and reducing a fever. It is a treatment that I use on my toddler every time she comes down with a fever. Kids don’t mind it and it actually helps them sleep better when they aren’t feeling well.

Warming socks:

You need 1 pair of thin cotton socks, 1 pair of thick wool (natural fiber) socks. After ensuring your feet are warm, soak the cotton socks in cold water and wring out as much as possible. Put those socks on your feet and cover with dry wool socks. Go to bed and your feet should have dried the socks by morning. If in 4 hours the socks are still wet, simply remove the socks and dry your feet.