As I write this, my nasal congestion is finally easing, and my energy is returning. The feeling of being able to swallow without pain or sleep without a nose strip is such sweet relief. Although cold and flu symptoms are generally considered mild, it is never fun feeling sick. Many people have “at home” remedies that are passed down by their families to help ease the symptoms of acute illnesses. I’m including my personal protocol for smoothly navigating colds and flus, for you to combine with the wonderful techniques you already practice.

At the first signs of sickness, or even before then as a preventative, I usually start with Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) root. The root of this plant is often taken long-term for its ability to support healthy detox pathways, as well as for its ability to modulate the immune system. When used for acute sickness it is best taken as symptoms start, within the first 2-3 days.

When I begin to feel nasal congestion, I will often begin with steam inhalation or nasal lavage. Steam inhalation can be performed in a variety of ways, from sitting in a wet sauna to breathing next to an essential oil diffuser, but the simplest preparations are often the most accessible. My setup includes a large bowl and a beach towel or blanket. I’ll bring water to a boil then add it to my bowl with aromatic herbs (like thyme, oregano, sage, or lavender). I then create a “tent” by covering my head and the bowl with my towel, allowing steam to build in this area. Breathing in the vapors can assist with opening nasal passages and encouraging drainage. Nasal lavage can be performed with a neti pot. You can either use a salt-water solution or an herbal infusion to flush water throughout the sinuses. I will usually make an infusion with Calendula or Chamomile, then mix my salt and baking soda to create an herbal saline combination.

One method that I have found to be profoundly useful is referred to as “warming socks” or “magic socks”. This is where a pair of cotton socks are soaked in ice-cold water, and then wrung out until damp but not dripping. The socks are then worn overnight with a pair of wool socks over the top. This treatment helps with increasing circulation, short cold applications have an initial constriction effect on blood vessels with a secondary dilation effect. This alternating between constricting and dilating the vessels helps support full-body circulation.

There is a plethora of herbs at your disposal to include when acutely sick, picking the right herbs for your presentation is the tricky part. Some common herbs that can help during colds and flus are Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum), Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina), Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), and Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica). Yerba santa is great when you have coughing with a lot of thin mucus, wild cherry is better for spastic coughs that wake you from sleep, mullein helps relax spastic coughs while loosening phlegm, and yerba mansa is great for thinning and drying profuse, thick mucus. Having an herbal professional guide is the ideal way to ensure the best pairing.

My diet is usually limited during this time, mostly due to a lack of appetite. Lacking an appetite during a cold or the flu is a normal response—it is our body’s method for focusing its resources on supporting the immune system. When I do eat, I’ll try to eat foods that are easy to digest but are packed with nutrients. Some examples include bone broth, miso soup, or pho. Beverages like lemon, ginger, and honey infusion can be helpful for soothing irritation in the throat as well. Supplements like Zinc, Vitamin C, and Vitamin D are important to take for immune support during this time as well.

Acupuncture/acupressure is phenomenal for supporting the healing process when recovering from a cold or the flu. In Traditional Chinese Medicine there are a few things that can contribute to acute illnesses, there are external factors (which are usually our viruses and bacteria) as well as internal factors (constitution, stress, life habits, etc.). Although a full treatment protocol will look different based on these factors there are points you can stimulate through massage at home that can support recovery. On either side of the nostrils against the face, there is a point called Bi Tong, which is used to decrease congestion in the maxillary sinuses. Massaging Gallbladder 20, which is located along the base of the skull about 1 inch from the spine on either side, can help with lymphatic flow and muscle tension.

Massage or Gua Sha, are great ways to decrease congestion. I have access to a massage gun at home which I’ll use on my neck, shoulders, upper back, and base of my head, but if this is not something you have access to, Gua Sha is a fantastic option. You can use a tool designed for the practice or even just a ceramic soup spoon (anything with a rounded edge that you’re able to grip).

Osha (Ligusticum porterii) root is indicated for lingering coughs and is best taken at the end of the illness. It is a potent immune stimulant, which also works to thin mucus and assist with increasing coughing. This plant has a rich history of use in respiratory conditions, but because of overharvesting within the last few decades, it is recommended to only use it when indicated.

Another treatment I usually include is the use of homeopathic remedies. Homeopathy relies on pairing a remedy to your specific symptoms so that it best fits your overall picture. This usually requires a practitioner’s assistance, especially in acute cases where your picture may change multiple times during treatment.

With all of this in mind, dosages and treatment plans are best utilized when patient-specific, so please call and schedule an acute visit the next time you get sick!

Dr. Anna-Maria DeCarolis, NMD

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