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Stop a Cold, Prevent a Relapse

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For patients with Fibromyalgia or ME/CFS, catching a cold is fraught with dire risks. Consequences can include cold symptoms that are far more severe and last longer than in non-patients, but the scariest risk is that a cold can lead to an FM flare or full blown ME/CFS relapse.

Secondary bacterial infections are also of special concern to patients, and these frequently cause more trouble than the cold itself, often necessitating medical treatment to help deal with the ensuing chronic bronchitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis, or pharyngitis. The usual course of action is prescription antibiotics, and although frequently effective in killing the bacterial culprit, antibiotics can exacerbate the digestive problems that already affect an estimated 80% of FM/ME/CFS patients who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome – IBS.

One can therefore easily understand the fear and anxiety a patient experiences at the first sign of an oncoming cold. To a patient, it means the possibility of several months of suffering.

Patients need to exercise extra caution in order to reduce this risk, and fortunately, there are some amazingly effective things you can do to stop a cold and prevent a relapse.

Hand-to-Hand Combat

It is helpful to be aware of a very important fact: The cold you catch will almost certainly come via the person you least suspect – you. Research has shown that cold viruses are usually spread by touching something that an infected person has recently touched. To reduce your chances of becoming infected, wash your hands frequently, and never touch your hands to your mouth, nose, or eyes – unless your hands are sparkling clean.

The first thing you should do when you arrive home is wash your hands with soap and water, particularly if you have been out in public. This should become your ritual, and I think it is the single most important thing patients can do to improve their health. Ask family members and guests to do the same, and they will respect you for it. Your house is your sanctuary, and you need to keep it virus free.

Cold bugs can also hitch their way into your house on items that you have touched while you were out in public, including your cell phone and keys. Prevent this from happening by wiping these items down with a sanitizing hand wipe such as those made by Clorox and Lysol. It takes only 30 seconds, and this ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure.

But what if a cold virus penetrates this incredibly effective defense network? Here are some tricks of the trade – insights I believe I am qualified to share as an ME/CFS patient and owner of ProHealth and

Three Weapons in Your Drugstore or Grocery

Your arsenal requires only three weapons, all of which can be purchased at most major drugstores for about $10 each. And since a cold is like a wildfire – easy to deal with at first, but once it spreads, it’s probably too late – you will want to keep a supply of these on hand. If you think there is even the slightest possibility that you may be catching a cold, you need to employ all three immediately. Once the fuse is burning, you’ll have a very short time to act, but if you hit it hard and fast within a few hours, in my experience you’ll be able to stop it about 80% of the time.

[Note: In June 2009, the FDA warned consumers to stop using ZicamR intranasal products sprayed or swabbed into the nose, and asked the maker to cease marketing the product, owing to a risk that Zicam might affect the sense of smell. This does not apply to Zicam zinc-containing lozenges taken by mouth.]

Your first big gun is ZicamR Cold Remedy Nasal Gel (or Gel Swabs) – backed by impressive double blind research studies showing that it dramatically reduced the severity and duration of the common cold. It is hypothesized that the product’s ionic zinc disables common cold viruses (generally rhinoviruses) by preventing their ability to infect and re-infect cells. Regardless of the mechanism, the product is worth its weight in gold.

Zicam is sprayed or swabbed directly into each nostril at the first sign of a cold. Although it may cause a mild burning sensation for a minute of two, this is a good indication that a virus is indeed infecting your nose and making it more sensitive. Zicam does not cause this burning sensation unless the nasal tissue is raw.

A word of warning is in order: A small number of individuals have complained that Zicam has affected their sense of smell. My friends, family members, and I have used it with great success over the years and we have never experienced any problems. And research studies have not supported this claim. Nevertheless, if you are the cautious type, you should look into it.

Your second weapon is Zicam ‘Rapid Melts’, or Cold-EezeR throat lozenges. These products can be found in most drugstores in the cold care section, and provide ionic zinc in a very pleasant tasting form. Although both are backed by five or six published medical studies that prove their efficacy, I prefer the Rapid Melts because the lozenge dissolves and coats the mouth and throat in about two minutes; Cold-Eeze takes about 10 minutes.

Your third weapon, AirborneR, is available at most drug and grocery stores for about $9 and works as a potent immune stimulant. Although surprisingly effective at stopping a cold dead in its tracks, Airborne is not without at least some risks: Patients should be aware that immune system stimulants may cause a temporary worsening of FM/ME/CFS symptoms. Although this is temporary, Airborne may also cause wakefulness if taken late at night; patients should exercise caution and take the product only in the morning or afternoon.

I recommend prophylactic use of these products when the risk of catching a cold is high. Examples of these situations are air travel, social plans with someone who may have a cold, and living in a household where one of the family members is fighting a cold. I never fly without a quick application of Zicam, and it has served me well.

Even the best laid plans sometimes fail, and if you eventually succumb to a rare cold, you can delight in knowing that the vast majority of colds have passed you by and your health is all the better for it. In that case, get lots of rest and drink lots of fluids, use Zicam, Cold Eeze, and Airborne (which are not ProHealth products), eat lots of chicken noodle soup, and get to bed early.

Wishing you a cold free season,

Rich Carson
ME/CFS patient, ProHealth Founder

Note: This information has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is generic and is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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17 thoughts on “Stop a Cold, Prevent a Relapse”

  1. AndyTheJaw says:

    The advice given regarding the blocking of, and treating a common cold is excellent, whilst also being wholly consistent with my own experiences. In addition, as a person with M.E., I certainly discovered that a common cold, when infected, would cause a relapse, where recovery, after the cold had gone, could take two or three weeks.

    When I first used Zinc Gluconate Lozenges, I was impressed with their speed of action. However, I had to follow the golden rule of noting that it would fail if I had either just eaten or drunk anything before taking the lozenge, or immediately after taking the lozenge. By taking the lozenge away from food and or drink makes all the difference.

    With respect to nasal sprays, also containing zinc gluconate ions, these work by tackling the most common first infection area, the nose. They do, however, have a stinging sensation if the person using the spray breathes in too deeply as the spray is used. However, just like the lozenges, the earlier the zinc gluconate ions are delivered, the faster the cold is teminated. In my case, the best is less than 12 hours after the first signs of a cold. The first symptoms started in the late afternoon, I took some zinc gluconate lozenges, and by the time I woke up the following morning, the sore throat had gone, and no nasal discharge. However, it is still recommended that the lozenges are used for a further two days to make sure that the cold cannot return.

  2. pcope says:

    Rich Carson’s suggestions for avoiding colds and other secondary infections is, for the most part, extremely helpful and sensible– I always appreciate the insightfulness that he puts into his articles.

    HOWEVER, I WISH TO RAISE MORE OF A RED FLAG ABOUT THE USE OF THE ZICAM NASAL SPRAYS. I was one of the unfortunate “rare” individuals who suffered irreversible alterations in my sense of smell after using Zicam spray for on just a few occasions. I didn’t have a clue as to what was causing the problem, until I stumbled across information on the internet concerning class action lawsuits that were being assembled to deal with this issue. I am not a litigious person, but I surely wish someone had warned me ahead of time that this product mght result in a PERMANENTLY ALTERED OR SEVERE LOSS OF YOUR SENSE OF SMELL.

    NOTE that it is a “homeopathic” medication, which makes these side-effects all the more troublesome and mysterious; presumably, the concentration of ZINC GLUCONATE as an active ingredient is minimal, suggesting that the “burning’ sensation that many people experience (and perhaps the more severe side-effects suffered by a sub-set of users) is due to other “carrier” components of the spray. And of course, homeopathic OTC medications are not subject to regulation or scrutiny by the FDA.

    So caveat emptor: let the user beware. I know friends who have used this product safely (aside from the “burning” sensation), and who believe in its value as strongly as Rich Carson’s article suggests. But people should know that their IS a possibility of more serious side-effects, which in my case continue to trouble me after more than a year. Can I prove without a doubt that the Zicam is the culprit? Of course not. But I am not alone. If you have doubts or concerns, check out some of the information online:

    e.g. a posting from the Washington Post online:

    or this posting from Denver Channel 7 online:

    you can also find a swarm of postings from legal firms (of course):

    and spirited defenses from Matrix Initiatives, the makers of Zicam (but they are settling the lawsuits with payments, nevertheless)

    Lastly, here is the summary about zinc gluconate on Wikipedia (strengths, weaknesses, warnings):

    One bummed out user

  3. 3julzz says:

    For my daughter and I COLD MD works even better than Zicam. I work in a hospital, and many of my co-workers get colds when I don’t because I use it at the first sign of a cold. It boosts your immune system so you can take it all the time if you choose to. Hope this helps!

  4. koala8_1 says:

    Hi, I have found tremendous success with Zicam nasal swabs. It seems the least invasive to my system and works every time. You just have to hold the swab in the nostril and hold for 5 seconds each side. It doesn’t need to be put in the nostril very far and I have not had any side effects other than a little tingling. Nose sprays in general I cannot use and the other chewables and such make me very sick to my stomach. I have not had a cold since using this product. I do have relatives that find success with airbourne as well. I tell everyone I know about this but it amazes me when I hear from them and they say they have a bad cold. My first question is did you use the Zicam and of course Noooo!. You can only bring a horse to water!! Julie

    1. gracepartaker says:

      I have just come down with my first cold and I was dreading the intense effects that as a ME/CFS I will suffer. I ran out right after reading this and am going to try all the suggestions. I feel encouraged So thank you so much
      Blessings Sally

    2. DiamonDie says:

      How surprisingly, this article is focused on the United States only. We don’t have any of those products here.

      However, I would recommend Siberian ginseng (also known as eleuthero). It has been shown to prevent colds in several studies and works 100% for me. It is an adaptogen and may be helpful for other CFS symptoms as well. It seems to be well tolerated in the CFS population and is very cheap, only costs a few bucks a month even if you take it every day.

      Olive leaf extract and black elderberry are also good, though the former is so expensive that many people (myself included) cannot afford it. And I’m not sure if black elderberry works for colds too, or only for influenza.

      Vitamin D is also extremely important as a cold preventive (as well as preventing cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease etc). Everyone should take at least 25 mcg a day (unless it’s summer and you regularly go out). If you feel a cold is catching on, take some extra doses. Vitamin D has been shown to work for enhancing the efficacy of the flu shot as well – I know it’s controversial for CFS patients, but many take it without harm, yet may seroconvert poorly.

    3. calette says:

      I am Canadian and can buy Cold FX. It works for me every time I begin to get a cold or cough. I even recuperated from severe bronchitis last winter by using three tablets, three times a day. I was so sick that I was unable to get to the emergency room, so I used no anti-biotics. But it worked as quickly as amoxacillin (spelling?) Three days later I was out and about, grocery shopping, doing laundry, etc.I had only a slight cough. I find Cold FX expensive, at twenty-some dollars a bottle, but truly a natural wonder! It has no negative side affects.

    4. Yetti says:

      FDA has ordered that Zicam remove the cold remedy products from shelf due to the link that it can permanently damage the sense of smell.

      You shouldn’t be able to buy it anymore, but If you have any kicking around – it is probably best if you don’t use it.

  5. koala8_1 says:

    HI, sorry to hear you are fighting a cold but hope you find success and health with the suggestions. Take care and be well. Julie

  6. artemisnz says:

    It is a 3 day course of 7 tablets of live bacteria, which improves resistance to post cold bacterial infections for about 3 months. Many, including me, think it cuts the possibility of a cold dramatically, although this is not stated on the pack. Buccaline has been around for decades – I recall taking it in the 1950s.

    I assume it is available in the US. In New Zealand it is an over the counter product, but requires the pharmacist’s approval. I think that is because people may think it prevents the flu.

    Cost here is less than $US10 per pack.

    Would be interested to hear if anyone else take this.


  7. sallynoname says:

    I take Echinacea at the first sign of a cold. It boost the immune system, but I don’t take it all the time as i believe that just risks depleting the immune system. I also use salt to kill the virus – I gargle with a salt solution, and i use salt drops or a salt spray in my nose. The salt spray is called Sterimar sea water nasal spray, and the drops are called Nasosal. The drops are very cheap, and youcan make your own salt gargle by dissolving some salt in warm water so that costs next to nothing!

    1. cherylsue says:

      What about products such as Epicor, Sambucol Elderberry extract, olive leaf extract, and the neti pot? I’ve found these even more effective if the cold is caught in the beginning. Once you have the cold, forget it. Epicor has to be taken for several months prior to the cold/flu season to be effective I hear. I know from experience it doesn’t work with the onset of the cold.

    2. hopeful07 says:

      I think the article was very informative and I will try 2 of these products in the future. I already have a cold now for over 1 week so it won`t help now.I will try the Cold Eeze and the Airborne. Thankyou!
      hopeful07 Rating 4

    3. Aberlaine says:

      I, too, take echinacea at the first sign of a cold. All I need is one tablet. It usually stops the viruses in their tracks and the cold never develops. If the cold has progressed further, I’ll take the echinacea for a few more days and this results in the cold lasting for only a few days instead of the normal ten days.

  8. PIEEYE says:

    I have experimented with many different things to stop colds. The key is to recognize that you are getting one. That means listening to what your body is telling you and being in touch with yourself. That means if you get in bed and think, “I feel like I’m getting a cold, but I’m too tired to do anything about it right now, I’ll just sleep and if its worse tomorrow I’ll deal with it then”. You are making a big mistake. You want to attack it now when you have the chance. Some people may think that they are just tired, and don’t even recognize that it is really the beginnings of a cold. That is your first best defense-recognizing even before you have any classic symptoms. If you have the tiniest tickle in your nose or throat, that is when you can stop it, maybe in minutes. Someone mentioned neti pots. I don’t have one but I think it would be great. Salt water is wonderful in the nose and mouth. Gargle with it. You can use it almost anywhere, especially if you are travelling and have left your arsenal at home. I have used hydrogen peroxide in the nose and in the ears. I use a cotton swab in the nose. It does burn but hasn’t caused me any lasting discomfort. I soak cotton balls with the hp and drip it into each ear while laying on my side. I let it sit for a few minutes and listen to it bubble, then I roll over and let drain and do the other side. Gargling with hp is not a bad idea either. I also take echinacea pills and open them and “snort gently” the powder in them or place it in the nose, as well dry gargling the powder in the throat. Someone mentioned hitting hard and fast. Thats what I do with echinacea. If I feel a cold coming on, I will take 10 capsules and then later take 6 after about 4 hours and then take another 6 and then take another 6 before bed. Next day I will take 6 to 8 depending on how I’m feeling. I will continue to take 4 to 6 through out the day even though I may feel that the cold symptoms are no longer evident. There are others such as astralagus that are good for the immune system which I don’t have as much personal experience with. Along with the ech. I have also high dosed with garlic and ginger, taking 10 capsules of each. For me they have been effective and without side effects. I consider them to be food in capsule form. I may not smell that good after the garlic but I don’t notice it! These are just some of the things that I have done personally. I don’t advocate or recommend them for anyone else.

  9. beartow says:

    Try Tussin. After years and years of colds leading to ear infections, sinus infections, bronchial infections, pneumonia, etc. I now use Tussin, a generic version of Robitussin. Tussin is a liquid form of Guaifenesin. I have used approximately a four ounce bottle of Tussin for the last seven to eight months and this has helped to clear up my sinuses, but continue to use it daily as needed. On days when I have a lot of sinus drainage and/or sinus pain I use about two to three teaspoons. This so far seems to have kept things under control ie: very little to zero coughing up phlegm in the a.m. When first getting diagnosed for fibromyalgia a rheumatologist asked me if I had a “morning cough” — it has taken me years to figure out what he meant. With Immune Support’s information on Guaifenesin I searched for a product that I could test-drive on myself! One where I could easily monitor any side effects or adverse reactions. Since fibromyalgia sufferers have a higher rate of nasal secretion I thought Tussin would be worth a try and along with advice from my family doctor in that nasal products don’t work for everyone. That after trying many nasal products that weren’t touching the symptoms to having horrible debilitating headaches. (These headaches were a reaction to steroids contained in nasal spray products like Nasonex, per my ENT). My battle with colds has been life long. Where “normal” people just get a cold for a week, my colds would turn into month-long battles with antibiotics. ENTs told me my eustachian (ear) tubes don’t function properly, thus many incidences of ear infections, perforated ear drums, and one skin graft surgery to repair a perforated ear drum that wouldn’t heal. But possibly, as a fibromyalgia sufferer, the production of nasal secretions is more than any set of eustachian tubes can handle! I hope this is helpful. It is good to know that my Fear-Of-Colds is part of having fibromyalgia, and that it is a fear shared by others. Again, after having been laughed at by many people when I try to explain how easy it is for me to catch a cold and then the ramifications of catching that dreaded cold. Not an easy thing.
    Cold-Eze also seems to be helpful for me. Again, Immune Support, many thanks for this very interesting article!

  10. jcfisher2005 says:

    I am not a scientific or medical expert or even novice.
    One thing is for sure: Zicam works for me….really really well.
    Dr’s (long ago) used to give me penicillin for colds I had in the past. Nowadays you have to have a network-drama-level infection to get an anti-biotic and this is for good, sound reason.
    My question is this…Can the body develop an immunity to the zinc that presumably makes Zicam so effective? I’m only being cautious. Perhaps this is a silly question but I will continue to use Zicam whenever I get so much as a tiny clue that a cold may be coming on.
    No one I’ve seen has ever commented on whether this is a bad idea as yet.
    I’m a fan of taking care of my immune system 365 days a year. The idea of the ‘immunity cocktail’ provided by Airborne is not as appealing to me as taking Zinc (Zicam) after an illness has set in.
    Any thoughts???

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