My Colds Are Worse Than Your Colds
September 18, 2016 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Why do I get such severe colds and is there anything I can do to relieve my symptoms when I get one?

It seems that when other people get sick, they get a bit stuffy, a bit coughy and a bit fatigued. I, however, get nasty, severe, terrible colds with extreme congestion. Like, congestion so bad I have to stuff kleenex up my nose and it is drenched and dripping in a matter of minutes. Congestion so bad I have to sleep with a towel on my pillow. Congestion so bad I can't taste for a week (though the dripping usually subsides after a couple of days).

Why does this happen and is there anything I can do to help?

I use a neti pot multiple times a day when sick, though usually I can't get the water to pass through for the first couple of days. I've also tried steaming to no avail. Decongestants do absolutely nothing.

Perhaps also worth mentioning is that I'm sort of asthmatic. It was bad when I was young, but as an adult, I tend to only use an inhaler when I exercise. I was once told that asthmatics have longer and more severe colds than non-asthmatics...?

Winter is imminent. Colds too. Help!
posted by toby_ann to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
One single, solitary data point, but a friend of mine started taking B and C vitamin supplements every day, and after a while (months? A year?) he said he still got colds, but felt way less miserable when he did get them.
IANAD, YMMV, and so on.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:41 PM on September 18, 2016

Best answer: People's sinuses and nasal cavities are shaped in all kind of diverse ways. Could be that you have something structural that makes your congestion particularly bad. It sounds like it might be worth it to you to have a preventative visit with an ENT doctor. They have pretty effective ways of imaging now and might be able to identify so likely culprits and offer solutions.
posted by Mizu at 2:43 PM on September 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: That's what I came to say, Mizu. If you are asthmatic, there is a chance you have polyps or at least some lesser form of swelling going on in your nose when you are at your best. You may have less of a gradient to go from your normal to absolutely friggin awful. An ENT could at least figure out the lay of the land and offer suggestions. (Disclosure: I am an ENT)
posted by robstercraw at 3:03 PM on September 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

Wow, I literally wanted to post the same question, but I've been too sick and miserable to do so.

For me, it's worst in my throat. Mucinex FastMax seems to be the only thing that has an effect. Otherwise, I just try to stay hydrated, and get enough vitamin C. Interested in seeing other answers...
posted by kevinbelt at 3:03 PM on September 18, 2016

A couple things:

- Yes to Mizu and robstercraw. I am an asthmatic with terrible allergies and apparently an extremely deviated septum. I've been told that this is all part of why my colds are terrible, and why a third of my upper respiratory infections turn into either bronchitis or pneumonia.

- Maybe this is obvious, but...actually rest. Whenever I'm sick I try to pretend that I'm not sick and just go about business as usual, and then it just gets worse and worse and lasts forever. I'm currently on day 3 of a cold, and I actually stayed home on day 1, and I don't feel like nearly as much as a trash pile as I usually do. Small sample size ftw!

- Prevention, man. Last winter I avoided all sick people and was the world's most diligent hand-washer and I only got sick once (and I'm a teacher!) Being sick sucks, and it's worse for us, so if you can keep away from contagious people do it.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:23 PM on September 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

FYI: I had pneumonia several times growing up, including a bout that nearly made me drop out of graduate school. During my graduate school bout a friend casually mentioned that there is a vaccination that is a compendium bronchial vax; I had never heard of it, despite being treated multiple times. I went straight to a clinic and asked for the bronchial vax---it cost me ten dollars, and I have not had pneumonia or barely a cold since---and it's been twenty years. I understand they need updating periodically. Anyway, you might try a vax for bronchial. I hope this is helpful.
posted by effluvia at 3:53 PM on September 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

Which decongestants do nothing? Is it all of them? Phenylephrine is a common ingredient in cover-the-counter cold medications but is known to be ineffective. Pseudoephedrine is more effective, at a dose of 60 milligrams at a time, though it causes insomnia. Nasal spray oxymetazoline can be quite effective, but should not be used for more than three days for fear of creating a dependence (use it in only one nostril if you can, to help avoid dependence).

I agree that seeing an ENT is the best thing to do now, to see if you have polyps or another problem.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 4:09 PM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

artistic versimilitude has a good point --When you're using decongestants, are you using real Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) that you have to ask for at the phamarcy, or the junk that they have on the shelf? (Also I recommend just getting the regular kind, not the 12-hour or 24-hour, and taking it in the morning, to reduce the insomnia. And reduce your caffeine intake.)

Also agree about oxymetazoline (Afrin).
posted by radioamy at 4:40 PM on September 18, 2016

Nth see an ENT for imaging. I used to be prone to terrible green-snot sinus infections, and the resulting scar tissue built up and made them even worse. I had surgery done to widen the sinus passages and haven't had a bad one since. I get maybe one cold a year and it lasts two days.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:35 PM on September 18, 2016

My ENT bestie suggested that I try Afrin about ten minutes before the Neti pot. Not every time! Maybe one morning and one night, something like that. That's cause for those of us with chronic rhinitis or other respiratory shiz, Afrin feels fucking amazing, like "I didn't know I could BREATHE a UNICORN" kind of amazing. But like crack cocaine, or breathing unicorns, it's a really tough habit to break, because the swelling boomerangs right back, much worse, if you get habituated. Tread lightly, Afrin explorer.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:48 PM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Anyway it does open up those schnozz passages something amazing, but it's not worth the ULTIMATE PRICE of even worse congestion if you get hooked.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:49 PM on September 18, 2016

To reduce the likelihood of getting the cold in the first place, I recommend immune enhancing mushrooms, such as MyCommunity from Fungi Perfecti (I'm not affiliated in any way).

I'm a formerly-bad, now-mild asthmatic too, and vitamin C, Zinc, etc. have never done anything for me. Mushrooms, taken as extracts/pills and used frequently in cooking during the fall/winter, do help my immune system not cave in to whatever's going around.

Neti pots not only never helped me with congestion, but they also tend to get liquid in my ears no matter how careful I am. Don't give yourself an ear infection to go along with your congestion...
posted by mysterious_stranger at 5:54 PM on September 18, 2016

My doc said don't use neti pots on days when I can't get anything through my nostrils. If it's not draining, don't use them. He also suggests Real Sudafed and I've seen people suggest mixing a spray of Afrin into the neti pot the first time out but I am nervous about that and don't do it.

Have you tried stuff that is supposed to get your mucus flowing like mucinex? I also suggest imaging. I would get bad infections and got a one-sided turbinate reduction and have had no more trouble on that side. I wouldn't suggest this lightly but if you have insurance that would handle this, it might be a real game changer.

Also: keep a humidifier going inside which seems sort of weird if you're already dripping snot but can help keep your nasal passages moist which can help colds from taking hold.
posted by jessamyn at 6:02 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a teacher and go from "sick to sinus infection needing antibiotics" quickly at least twice a year- and other smaller sicknesses every month or so- or I did until I saw an ENT /allergenist/multiple doctors. I got a shot of some kind to help my weak immune system (which I knew I had and others didn't believe me!) and have got the flu shot the past two years. Much better already. Although still get massive headaches...anyway, like others are saying, please visit specialists until someone actually helps you- it makes life way easier to not be stumbling around feeling awful for large chunks of the year. Oh I use nasal sprays too daily.
posted by bquarters at 7:10 PM on September 18, 2016

I'm going to go with the hypothesis that baseline nasal allergies are the reason your colds are worse. Consider trying a nasal steroid spray or montelukast. If one of those helps you day to day, you may find it makes your colds more manageable as well.

Alternatively, curcumin is a partial inhibitor of TSLP, an inflammatory signal elevated in asthma and allergies. Curcumin added to usual asthma treatment helps. I'd guess it might do the same for nasal allergies.
posted by Emmy Noether at 7:21 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I get horrible colds that knock me on my ass.

What helps me avoid getting sick is washing my hands ruthlessly. I take public transportation so in my travels if I touch ANYTHING on the train, door handles, anything, I treat that hand like it's been contaminated until I get to my destination and make a beeline for the bathroom to wash with soap and water. Seriously, pretend like it has wet paint on it and don't touch anything with it. Especially don't touch your face!

If I start feeling run down I dial things way back and do whatever it is I need to do then go home and rest. Stocking up on sleep the moment I start feeling off usually nips it. Work from home if you can. I also try my best to stay the hell away from sick people at work. Pound water like it's going out of style and take a multivitamin. Get the flu shot, I don't care if its effectiveness is debatable, just do it.

When I do get sick, it's mucinex all the way, stay home and sleep and eat clear broth soups and a BRAT (bananas, rice, Apple/sauce, toast) diet and cut out dairy (which can suppress immune response). Try to get a little fresh air though, even if it's sipping teas outside or opening up the window. Once you are better, wash the HELL out of your bed linens, towels and sicko pajamas. Give that house a good scrub too. Don't forget to clean your phone and computer keyboard too, they are some of the filthiest objects we use constantly.
posted by floweredfish at 8:09 PM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

See an ENT. I couldn't breathe through my nose at the best of times and seeing why on the camera he shoved up my nose was very satisfying (note: the imaging doesn't hurt at all, he did spray an absolutely disgusting tasting substance to make my nasal passages open up.)

I also have asthma managed like yours. I really wish I'd gone to the ENT decades sooner, though I guess they didn't have the cool cameras then.
posted by kitten magic at 3:02 AM on September 19, 2016

+1 to the suggestion of nasal steroids above if you have significant allergy symptoms in general. I used to want to stuff tissues up my nose like you describe, but since starting Flonase, my colds don't really include any congestion or postnasal drip at all. It's kind of creepy, actually.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:58 AM on September 19, 2016

When you get a cold or flu, it's a combination of the virus causing problems and your immune system responding. Try to get and stay as healthy as possible, wash your hands a lot, keep your hands away from eyes, nose mouth. When you get sick, treat the symptoms - genuine pseudoephedrine for congestion. I take one every 2 hours just so I can breathe. I like something anesthetic like sucrets for sore throat. Tylenol or aspirin for aching. Nyquil at night. Chicken soup is supposed to help, and at least it keeps you hydrated.
posted by theora55 at 8:20 AM on September 19, 2016

Anecdotal: my experience with colds was similar to yours, until I was diagnosed and treated for an autoimmune disease. My theory is that my immune system was already all agitated and so a cold would just tip it over the top into disaster territory. A cold that would give my boyfriend the sniffles for 4 days would have me flat out on the couch for over a week. Throwing this out there in case you have any other odd symptoms in your life that might point toward a potential autoimmune disease.

I've also been able to reduce the number of colds I get over the years by adhering to floweredfish's hand washing protocol as described above. I also have started treating my cell phone as a germ vector. So if I've touched my phone, that hand gets washed before I touch my face or eat anything.
posted by purple_bird at 10:22 AM on September 19, 2016

The annual colds and sinus infections I used to get were epic, knocking me on my ass for a few days at a time, until one got *really bad* - during that episode a fistula from my sinuses or nasal cavity opened up at the back of my mouth, I was dizzy - and then one fine morning I blew a black bag-like structure out of my nose the size of a Vienna sausage. No more sinus infections, for at least six years. I have no idea how or why that happened, what the Thing was, or how I might have got rid of it earlier.

It's great to sail through colds, these days.
posted by jet_silver at 7:31 PM on September 19, 2016

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