Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How to Catch a Cold

Ahhh, winter. The cold season. 

If you are anything like me, you have spent lots of time consulting "Dr. Google" for your various medical ailments and woes. Today, I was googling "laryngitis home remedies" because I woke up without a voice. I taught six violin lessons at a whisper and croaked my way through a few phone conversations. It was fun. [Update: a vocalist told me that whispering is actually harder on your vocal cords! Go figure.]

Among Dr. Google fans, there is no topic more popular than how to prevent or lessen the common cold. We all know there is no cure for the rhinovirus, but that doesn't stop us from trying. 

I thought I'd throw out a few tips for a less-celebrated subject: the art of catching one of these viral delights. You see, procuring colds is a specialty of mine.  Last school year, I had five viruses, including the influenza, even though I got a flu shot. This year, I'm already on my second! 

Here's how I do it:

  • I bike and climb. A lot. While moderate exercise boosts immunity, Joel Friel, author of The Cyclist's Training Bible, says that hard training suppresses your immune system for up to 6 hours after a workout. Friel recommends that all dedicated cyclists "avoid public places" during this time period. Hmmm. This is not a luxury most of us can enjoy.
  • I work closely with kids, 25 per week to be precise. The music school I teach at is housed in an old building with poor air circulation. Viruses run rampant there.
  • I am a pretty motivated and energetic person. Sometimes I do too much. 
When I combine all of the above, I create optimal conditions for viruses. For example, one Sunday this October, I did a hard morning cyclocross race in freezing weather. Then, I taught three Suzuki group classes where I tuned approximately 30 child violins and put out a lot of energy to make the classes fun and productive. Then, I went to evening church, where I ate at a potluck and sat in a crowded auditorium. Bingo! By Wednesday I was a sneezing, sniffling mess. 

So, how do I treat colds? 

In short: I don't even try to medicate. No drugs, extra vitamins, or painkillers. Nothing. Last year, I awoke the day before my favorite road race with pinkeye in both eyes. Since Jon wears contacts and has no glasses, we panicked and rushed to the doctor. I talked to the doc for three minutes. He said it was viral and there was nothing I could do to get better or improve my immune system, then kindly offered to prescribe me an eye drop that he said wouldn't work. I bought the drops. Even with insurance, the visit and prescription cost over $100 and...you got it. The drops didn't help at all. 

This year, when it comes to the common cold, I'm boycotting medications. Instead, I cut sugar from my diet, drink lots of tea (loose leaf chamomile/ginger/mint/slippery elm is what I've been using recently). I put chapstick on my nose to prevent chafing. I stop riding my bike outside, sleep a lot, cut back on activities, double my daily dose of fermented cod liver oil, eat probiotic foods, use a neti pot, and make soup with bone broth. Then, I hole up and wait for it to be over. I think it's just a phase of life, much like public school teachers during their first few years. Perhaps by the time I have my own kids, I'll be immune! As annoying as it is, I'm thankful that colds are my only health problem.

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