Alice, my 8-year-old patient from Kailua, wanted to know why she got a cold every Christmas. I told her that she probably had a rhinovirus. “Does this mean that my cold came from a rhino?” she asked. I laughed and told her that these cold viruses are carried by humans and that we get a cold or flu when our immune strength is low. I explained to her that rhinoviruses are a major cause of cold and flu miseries.
How do you contract a rhinovirus? From shaking hands or from touching doorknobs, telephones, faucets, desktops, or other contaminated surfaces. Your hands then transfer the virus to the mucous membranes in your eyes, nose or mouth. Even a single sneeze can release over 4,500 droplets of contagious rhinovirus, projecting them up to 12 feet!
People who have asthma or a diminished resistance to infection are particularly at risk. Complications from a rhinovirus can include sinus, ear and lung infections, or pneumonia. Some people can contract a bacterial infection on top of a viral infection (a secondary bacterial infection), necessitating the use of antibiotics.
Our island paradise attracts people from all over the world making Hawaii a melting pot of viruses and bacteria. What can you do to insure that you are able to enjoy the holidays with full health and vigor?
Prevent the spread of infection. Wipe down surfaces that an ill person has touched. If you touch suspicious surfaces, wash your hands and keep your fingers away from your eyes, nose and mouth. After washing your hands in a public restroom, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and to open the bathroom door as you leave. Disinfecting lotion, antibacterial soap and antibacterial wipes available at local drug stores can help minimize exposure.
Eat healthy foods to maximize your immunity. A healthy diet consists of at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, complex carbohydrates, adequate protein, and a minimal amount of sugar. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that too much sugar suppresses the immune system. During the holidays, fill up on healthy foods so that desserts can be kept to a minimum.
Manage stress to keep your immune system strong. When your body is continually under stress, your immune system can’t function optimally. Try to decrease stress in your life. Exercise every day, if you can. According to the book Fitness for Dummies, even moderate exercise can strengthen your immune system. Its “100 Reasons to Break a Sweat” states that people who exercise are less likely to catch a cold.
Act quickly to fight off infection. If you start to get a cold, take the herb echinacea, suck on zinc lozenges and drink hot fluids to help kick your immune system into action.
According to well-respected medical researcher Bruce Barrett, M.D., echinacea is a powerful immune stimulant and contains anti-viral properties. The recommended dose is 300 mg standardized extract three times per day.
Scientific evidence also suggests that zinc lozenges can decrease the duration of the common cold. Zinc is essential for optimum immune function and possesses anti-viral properties. Naturopathic physicians Joe Pizzorno and Michael Murray state, in their Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, that in order for zinc to be effective it must be ionized in the saliva. Avoid lozenges that contain citric acid, sorbitol and mannitol as they interfere with the ionization of zinc. The most effective ones come in a glycine base. The recommended dose is one lozenge, which contains 15 mg zinc, every two waking hours for up to five days.
Hot fluids can assist your body in eliminating viruses by thinning out mucous secretions. Good old rest and relaxation give your body the down time it needs to heal. Remember, your illness may be your body’s way of telling you to slow down.
Alice learned from our visit that her immune system continually fights off all kinds of viruses and bacteria and that, if hers is strong, she will repel most infections. She promised to eat well, to stay active and to get lots of sleep so she can enjoy holiday season after holiday season without being attacked by a ferocious rhinovirus!
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com.