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.
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 ImmuneSupport.com.
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,
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.