US COPD Coalition

An In-depth Look at Colds and Flu

Nov
6

The following is excerpted from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health

What’s the Bottom Line?

What do we know about the effectiveness of complementary approaches for flu and colds?

  • No complementary health approach has been shown to be helpful for the flu.
  • For colds:
    • Complementary approaches that have shown some promise include oral zinc productsrinsing the nose and sinuses (with a neti pot or other device), honey (as a nighttime cough remedy for children), vitamin C (for people under severe physical stress), probiotics, and meditation.
    • Approaches for which the evidence is conflicting, inadequate, or mostly negative include vitamin C (for most people), echinaceagarlic, and American ginseng.

What do we know about the safety of complementary approaches for colds and flu?

  • People can get severe infections if they use neti pots or other nasal rinsing devices improperly. Tap water isn’t safe for use as a nasal rinse unless it has been filtered, treated, or processed in specific ways.
  • Zinc products used in the nose (such as nasal gels and swabs) have been linked to a long-lasting or even permanent loss of the sense of smell.
  • Using a dietary supplement to prevent colds often involves taking it for long periods of time. However, little is known about the long-term safety of some dietary supplements studied for prevention of colds, such as American ginseng and probiotics.
  • Complementary approaches that are safe for some people may not be safe for others. Your age, health, special circumstances (such as pregnancy), and medicines or supplements that you take may affect the safety of complementary approaches.

Some Basics About Flu and Colds

Each year, Americans get more than 1 billion colds, and between 5 and 20 percent of Americans get the flu. The two diseases have some symptoms in common, and both are caused by viruses. However, they are different conditions, and the flu is more severe. Unlike the flu, colds generally don’t cause serious complications, such as pneumonia, or lead to hospitalization.

No vaccine can protect you against the common cold, but vaccines can protect you against the flu. Everyone over the age of 6 months should be vaccinated against the flu each year. Vaccination is the best protection against getting the flu.

Prescription antiviral drugs may be used to treat the flu in people who are very ill or who are at high risk of flu complications. They’re not a substitute for getting vaccinated. Vaccination is the first line of defense against the flu; antivirals are the second. If you think you’ve caught the flu, you may want to check with your health care provider to see whether antiviral medicine is appropriate for you. Call promptly. The drugs work best if they’re used early in the illness.

Click here to read the full article and learn what the science says about complimentary health approaches to colds and flu.

To find out more about flu and colds, visit the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Web site.