When you come down with the first signs of a runny nose, congestion, or cough, it can be tempting to run to the store and grab the first cold or flu medicine you see. In many cases, people go straight to their doctors and request a course of antibiotics! While over-the-counter cold and flu medications may help alleviate your symptoms, they are just covering symptoms, not treating them. As for antibiotics, many people aren’t aware of the fact that antibiotics won’t do anything for the cold or flu at all! In fact, taking antibiotics when you don’t really need them can actually increase your risk of becoming ill in the future. The increase in antibiotic resistance is creating strains of illnesses that are becoming more and more difficult to treat. How does all of this work?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when antibiotics are taken without a direct need for them. Antibiotics have been overused for years to treat viral illnesses, when in fact they have no effect on viruses at all! The only time antibiotics are effective is when you are treating a bacterial infection. Resistance means that bacteria have been exposed to antibiotics so frequently that they have been able to mutate in a way that makes it significantly more difficult to fight them off. Resistance can also happen if you take antibiotics too often, even if it is always to fight off a bacterial infection.
During a bacterial infection, billions of bacteria are present. When you take a course of antibiotics, it kills off the bacteria that it can, while leaving the antibiotic-resistant bacteria behind. Even if this is a small amount, those remaining bacteria can continue to survive and reproduce. If that antibiotic-resistant bacteria begins to pass from person to person, all future infections will become resistant to the original antibiotic.
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This is one reason why it is important to always finish a full course of antibiotics, even if you feel completely better before taking them all. By finishing the medicine, you can ensure that you have killed off as much bacteria as possible.1
In the United States alone, there has been a dramatic increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This bacteria causes at least 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths a year Antibiotic resistance is beginning to occur in nearly all bacteria that infect people, including common bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus (which causes staph infections).2
When to use antibiotics
A cold, flu or other viral illness is no reason to take a course of antibiotics. However, there are other respiratory illnesses caused by bacteria that exhibit some similar symptoms. It’s important to determine what you are suffering from before beginning treatment with antibiotics. Strep throat, bacterial pneumonia, and sinus infections caused by bacteria are all illnesses that can be treated with antibiotics.
How do cold and flu medications work?
Cold and flu medications are often marketed to target one specific symptom. They may help reduce fever, eliminate pain, act as a decongestant to relieve a stuffy nose, act as an expectorant to help promote a more productive cough, or numb a sore throat. While these medicines can help relieve you of some of your symptoms, they won’t actually do anything to shorten the length of your cold. Whether you take medication or not, the cold or flu still needs to run its course.
While it is unlikely for you to become immune to medicine by taking it too frequently, your body may begin to develop a tolerance. Taking excessive amounts of any cold or flu medication can also increase your risk of experiencing negative side effects. Most side effects listed are worse than the symptoms you are trying to cover up in the first place!
Instead of risking unnecessary side effects, try a natural remedy that offers the same relief without the risk.
Natural remedies and preventatives
While over-the-counter medications can mask symptoms and give you the illusion of feeling better, they do nothing to confront the actual problem. By reaching towards natural remedies that help alleviate symptoms and improve your general health, you’re working towards a healthier body overall. Many of these natural remedies can already be found in your own home!
Ginger has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can help alleviate many common symptoms of the cold and flu. Try a soothing herbal tea made with ginger, lemon, and honey. For added benefit, try including cayenne, turmeric, and black pepper! You can also grate fresh ginger and eat it in a spoonful of local raw honey.
Ginger acts as both a preventative and a symptom soother. Adding ginger into your daily routine can improve your overall health in addition to soothing a sore throat or easing congestion.
A wide range of studies has been conducted on the health benefits of garlic, with results showing that garlic helps to enhance the function of the immune system by stimulating certain cell types.3 In a study conducted in 2012, the effects of a garlic on cold and flu symptoms were studied. A group of 120 subjects took either a garlic extract or placebo for 90 days. The results showed that those who took the garlic extract showed less severe symptoms, shortened duration of illness, and less frequent incidences of illness. 4
Garlic is most effective when eaten raw, so if you’re not brave enough to eat a whole clove of garlic alone, try mincing it and adding it to a spoonful of honey. You can also spread it onto a piece of toast to reap the same benefits!
Garlic and ginger are both key ingredients in what is known as “fire cider”, a folk preventative and remedy taken in shot form. While the actual recipe can vary depending on what you have on hand at the time, most fire ciders include a mixture of apple cider vinegar, honey, orange, lemon, onion, ginger, horseradish, garlic, turmeric, black pepper, and a spicy variety of pepper such as cayenne or habanero. You can imagine how intense this tonic tastes! Fire cider is thought to increase circulation, relieve congestion, aid in digestion and ward off cold and flu viruses. A tablespoon or two of fire cider is recommended a day to keep you feeling healthy throughout the cold and flu season. If you can’t bear the taste on its own, you can dilute it in a glass of water or add it to a glass of warm water with extra honey to make a tea!
Eucalyptus is one of the best essential oils out there for relieving congestion. Simply sniffing directly from the bottle can almost instantly clear your sinuses! You can also diffuse this oil throughout your home, or add to a homemade vapor rub and massage onto the chest and neck.
Lavender essential oil is incredibly relaxing and can help relieve feelings of stress and anxiety related to your illness. It is also commonly used to help promote a proper night of sleep and can help you get the rest you need to recover.
Peppermint essential oil has antipyretic properties, which can help reduce fevers naturally. Mix with a carrier oil and gently massage onto the soles of your feet to bring down the temperature of a fever.
Tea tree essential oil has powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties, making it ideal for disinfecting your home and ridding the air of harmful pathogens. Try making a homemade disinfectant spray with water, white vinegar, and 15-20 drops of tea tree essential oil!
Whatever symptoms you’re suffering from, try looking to natural remedies instead of cold and flu medications! You can reduce your risk of side effects, improve your overall wellbeing, and reduce your chances of creating resistance to medications you may need in the future.
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