Coming down with something.
January 3, 2019 5:08 PM   Subscribe

I can usually feel myself getting sick a day or so before the full-bore symptoms hit. A little scratchiness in the throat and/or sensitivity in the sinuses and/or mild wooziness, and I basically know that in 12-24 hours I can expect whatever cold or flu is invading me to set in with a sore throat, congestion, fever, etc. What do you do when you start feeling the warning signs to try to head off or mitigate the illness that's coming? Have you found anything that actually works?
posted by eugenen to Health & Fitness (52 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
Nyquil & Sleep
posted by brookeb at 5:13 PM on January 3 [7 favorites]

Sleep and rest at the initial stage results in sometimes avoiding it completely or reducing its duration.
posted by k8t at 5:14 PM on January 3 [11 favorites]

One evening during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy I was at a friend's house (long story). I mentioned that I could tell I was coming down with something, and she mixed up a saline rinse that her doc had given her the recipe for and told me to snort it from my hands untilI needed to blow, then blow. I think I may have repeated the whole thing a couple of times. I didn't get sick!

Now, I try to do this whenever I feel my throat getting scratchy, and it seems to do the trick. I wish I'd done it a couple of weeks ago.

This is really similar to the recipe she used.

I would definitely boil tap water (and allow it to cool) before using it like this.
posted by bunderful at 5:16 PM on January 3 [11 favorites]

There is evidence that zinc can help.
posted by waving at 5:17 PM on January 3 [11 favorites]

NyQuil and sleep.

If I can't do either of those yet, I:

Take a DayQuil.
Avoid caffeine, dairy, and sugar.
Drink orange juice and hot water with lemon.
Eat a prune for increased digestive health along with some green apples in place of anything super heavy.

Then NyQuil and sleep.

I will be doing this tonight, actually.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:17 PM on January 3

Yes: zinc, if I take say 100% DV 2-3x + per day. I know zicam is a scummy company in whatever ways, but...actual zinc, taken frequently at the first sign is the closest thing I’ve encountered to a miracle.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:17 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

I take a boatload of Vitamin D3 (like 20-30,000 IU), knock myself out in whatever legally available way I prefer, and sleep. I also eat my bodyweight in dark green veggies. I have occasionally been able to out-deadlift a cold, if I can schedule a heavy lifting session just as I'm feeling the early onset. A long run does not seem to have the same effect.
posted by lizifer at 5:21 PM on January 3

Zinc, elderberry syrup, garlic, and rest! I swear I've fended off many colds this way.
posted by eggs at 5:22 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]

I try to raise my temperature in a hot bath or with a heating pad. I drink hot liquids, especially peppermint tea with red chili flakes (I swear by that one) and miso soup. I eat garlic. And I get to sleep at my earliest convenience. This routine heads many illnesses off at the pass.
posted by hungrytiger at 5:26 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

I chug OJ when I get sick with cold/congestion/cough. Like, I aim for an entire bottle every day. It's a bunch of calories but I tend to not eat much else.
posted by noloveforned at 5:27 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

Nyquil and at least 8 hrs sleep!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:29 PM on January 3

I make sure I have Sudafed, throat lozenges, Tylenol, cough syrup, chicken soup (ideally hot & sour soup), ginger ale. I get a bad cold once year and I am ever grateful for streaming movies and tea.
posted by theora55 at 5:29 PM on January 3

Nighttime neo citron and sleep. Mainly get sleep - your body does so much of it's healing while you sleep, so that's absolutely the best thing.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:31 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

Oil of oregano capsules, echinacea tea, hot lemon water, staying warm, and LOTS of sleep.

Also taking a bath or shower with tea tree or eucalyptus oil to open my sinuses.
posted by ananci at 5:36 PM on January 3

Zinc Gluconate. It's hard to find actual zinc and not weird quasi homeopathic nonsense, but I've always had the best luck with zinc tablets (you still dissolve them in your mouth but they more have the consistency of a SweeTart, not a Halls) from a vitamin store, not the lozenges from CVS or whatever.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:41 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]

Cold-FX, and Hor Yan Ho tea (available at Chinese supermarkets)
posted by saturdaymornings at 5:41 PM on January 3

Elderberry capsules work well for me. 2 at night & in the morning at the first sign of unwellness feelings. Do that about 3 days & it keeps me from getting fully sick every time. That and hydrate like hell.
posted by yoga at 5:48 PM on January 3

I drink orange juice like it’s my job and try to sleep as much as possible.
(I can usually tell I’m getting sick when I start to crave orange juice—it’s pretty much the only time I want to drink it.)
posted by bookmammal at 5:50 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]

Zinc has worked for me
posted by supermedusa at 5:50 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

I drink Power Paks, take oscillococonum, and try to sleep as much as possible. Hot broth and as many liquids as you can also helps.

You can also do a saline rinse as mentioned above, or neti pot, but please be sure to use distilled water rather than tap if you do—there’s all kinds of bacteria in water that your gut can break down, but you don’t want them to have a direct line to your brain!
posted by stellaluna at 6:14 PM on January 3

When I wake up with a stray throat tickle, I gargle salt water and that arrests it about 50% of the time.
posted by Sauce Trough at 6:18 PM on January 3 [9 favorites]

Neti pot, enough sleep and as much vitamin C as my body can stand.
posted by InkaLomax at 6:29 PM on January 3

Neti. (If with tap water, boil hard for ten minutes and then cool. Quarter tsp. salt and quarter tsp. baking soda to one cup lukewarm water.) Hydrate like hell. Sleep
posted by kate4914 at 6:55 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]

Zinc, Emergen-C, drink tons of water, hot salt water gargle (utterly disgusting, but it truly works) if throat is involved or if I'm dealing with a sore tooth.

I also take ibuprofen at the first sign of ear and/or sinus trouble (phenylephrine does nothing for me or I'd just take Sudafed). Usually a full dose, then let it wear off slightly, so I can check the level of pain (if it is significantly worse, that's usually a sign to take a day off and/or check in with a doctor to see if it sounds bacterial). Keeping the inflammation of sinus and inner ear tissues down goes a long way towards determining how miserable you feel when you're sick, and it's easier to keep them from getting massively inflamed than it is to deal with it once it's turned into full-blown sinus nightmare.
posted by notquitemaryann at 7:19 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]

10 hours of sleep, elderberry syrup, vitamin D, and those mushroom capsules (mycelium) work really well for me.
posted by oxisos at 7:21 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

sauna, or if no access to one, the hottest bath I can stand for as long as I can stand it.
posted by smuna at 7:28 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]

If it’s a stomach bug, a shot of vodka on an empty stomach.
Gargle with salt water. Let the salt sit on your throat (don’t rinse right away)
Orange juice.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:57 PM on January 3

Try the wet socks remedy. Google it. I think it works for me! I also agree with the above posters about zinc , salt water gargle, Neti pot, dressing warm and drinking hot lemon honey water .
posted by leslievictoria at 8:13 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

If your prevention attempt fails, I've found that most of my miserableness in getting a cold is sinus swelling and taking Zyrtec (or generic from Sam's/Costco) for the duration helps me the most. That combined with DayQuil severe during the day has me feeling like a mostly functional human being.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:22 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

I also do very hot baths. I think it helps, but I can't prove it. They also help me sleep, which I know is very helpful.
posted by amtho at 9:00 PM on January 3

Zinc, especially zinc gluconate lozenges as mentioned above, is the only thing I've found to really do anything to stop an oncoming upper respiratory infection. I decided to try it after digging around in the scientific/medical literature, because it seemed to have more evidence than anything else I could find. Frequently, I find I have muted symptoms for 2-3 days and then it goes away. That doesn't seem to match what happened in studies, but since when I do get a cold, it often turns into a 3-week-long bronchitis saga, the results are good enough for me.

(Of course, sufficient sleep and hydration, too.)
posted by wintersweet at 9:09 PM on January 3

I take a lot of lysine tablets, sleep a lot, and generally take it easy. I get cold sores, and have the lysine for that, but I've read (not sure how reliable the sources were) that it can generally help your immune system.

I can't tell if this works, or I just think I'm starting to get sick when I'm actually not. Either way, a few times I've started to think I'm coming down with something, done this, and then been fine the next day.
posted by bellebethcooper at 9:21 PM on January 3

Sugar will dehydrate you, and dehydration is your enemy in this situation. If you're looking to load up on vitamin C, go the supplement route and avoid juice (too much sugar!). I keep 500mg tablets in the house and if I suspect I'm getting ill I take 2000mg every couple of hours during the day, with lots of water. I also add raw garlic to soup, increase vitamin D, and sometimes saline rinse.

Sleep sleep sleep and keep water by the bed. Better to stay in bed 2 or 3 days than to be walking around trying to shake an illness for 2 or 3 weeks. Take a sleeping pill if need be. Tylenol for pain if need be. Decongestant if you need it in order to sleep better.

Coconut water, or a little lemonade with a pinch of sea salt for electrolytes (if you just can't eat).
posted by vignettist at 10:44 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]

As soon as I notice any symptoms: a gram of Vitamin C.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:02 PM on January 3

Yes yes yes, that is exactly when I'm able to stave off illness. I go into full healing mode. I postpone everything on my to do list. All my energy is dedicated to getting better right now. Most important is rest, rest, rest (not always easy). Real rest (e.g. sitting in front of the computer/tv is often not restful, even though sedentary). I drink lots of fluids: water, tea (herbal teas, I choose herbs that are good for colds, the immune system, or my specific symptoms), soup. Elderberry syrup's great. Rosehips, too. Honey, lemon, ginger. And yeah, raw garlic. Either in soup or made into paste with salt and oil. Lots of garlic. A hot bath is nice, relaxes the body and helps me sleep deeply.

Also, there's a huge mental component to illness. It's usually come along because I'm stressed, and the illness is a little wake up call. Either I'm worrying too much and need to chill, or I'm pushing myself too hard and need to dial it back. I try to listen and feel what parts of me are affected, feel the pain, stuffiness, accept it and let it go.
posted by hannahelastic at 11:55 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]

I’ll take an Emergen-c with a large glass of water, eat as healthy as I can, and get 8-10 hours of sleep. Really I think sleep is the most important ingredient. Also, I try to de-stress as much as possible. Give myself permission to put responsibilities to the side for a day in order to prevent the illness.

If you DO get sick, I’ve found the Mucinex D (with real sudafed available behind the counter) during the day and Vick’s Sinex or Afrin at night for the worst 3-4 days helps me almost forget I’m sick. That’s for the horrid congestion. Haven’t found a magic bullet for a sore throat though :(
posted by christiehawk at 12:02 AM on January 4

Another thing I've started to do lately:
Combine slices of fresh ginger, slices of fresh tumeric, chopped liquorice root and black pepper in your favourite tea pot. Add hot water, steep for 10 minutes, and keep hot (and steeping) for at least an hour, and keep pouring yourself cups of this comforting and warming Golden Tea.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:16 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

Besides vitamin C, keep a supply of Breathe Right strips. They make a world of difference in your breathing ability so you can sleep. Sleep because you caught cold mostly because you are rundown/tired/stressed.
posted by Cranberry at 12:35 AM on January 4

I drink tons of water and sleep as much as possible as soon as I get the first throat tickle and stuffy nose.. I definitely think I cut my cold off at the pass with this approach while my husband (who caught it from me) has been really struggling with worse symptoms.
posted by like_neon at 1:07 AM on January 4

Usually when I feel like I'm going to get sick I don't do anything unusual, and it goes away on it's on own. If I had done something preventative it would be very tempting to credit it with that result.

But getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating well as many people are suggesting are all good ideas and things we should be doing anyway.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 5:45 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

Over time I've also learned that I usually get sick after some combination of the following: going out in the cold with inadequate layers, DOMS, drinking, and missing sleep. I'm sure stress is part of it too.

So in the winter I try to always keep my layers warm, my workouts gentle, my drinking moderate, and my sleep adequate.
posted by bunderful at 7:40 AM on January 4

I start taking Airborne heavily for a pow of vitamins. Add zinc to the routine as well. Get supplies for a cold (tissues, nyquil, tea, OJ, soup, etc.). Get extra hydrated and extra rest so your body can fight. Gargle with salt water at the first tickle of the throat, and keep doing it 2-3x daily.

I also like to eat soup when I'm sick. Either chicken noodle or pho or Thai soups. If I'm making chicken noodle at home, I add lots of turmeric, ginger, and cayenne for their healing properties. Or go out and eat the spiciest pho you can.
posted by hydra77 at 11:15 AM on January 4

Inhaling alcohol vapor will kill many infections that begin in the nasal/oral tract. Take a shot glass half-ful of liquor, cover it with a napkin or scrap of paper, heat it in the microwave until it almost boils (very quick, usually <2>
It will cause coughing fits, so be ready. The goal is to get alcohol vapor all throughout your nasal cavities and palate area. I do this every time I get "that feeling" that sickness is coming on, and it stops the sickness a significant portion of the time (not always, depending on variables. I'm not a doctor). Drink the lower-proof shot when you're done inhaling, if desired :o).
posted by smokysunday at 12:06 PM on January 4

Take a very, very hot shower -- as hot as you can stand.

Pound the vitamin C Linus Pauling-style.

If you have a neti pot, use that, and try a teaspoon of Listerine in the water if you can take it. Self-waterboarding FTW.

Gargle with that Listerine -- neat -- while you're at it.

Consider but ultimately disregard the "take pepper, put in vodka, take shot; kill everything inside you" approach.

Sleep. Wake up sick.


Swear in Chinese.

Skive off work.

If you run a stupidly high fever or get what is obviously a bacterial infection, hit the doc-in-the-box.
posted by sourcequench at 5:40 PM on January 4

I buy a 1/2 gallon carton of orange juice and drink the entire thing within 8-10 hours. (I do have a strong stomach and don't get acid indigestion, like, ever YMMV) I don't do anything else special.
I haven't been sick in almost 5 years and that last time was because I was working and didn't have access to orange juice. I was sick once about 7 years before that.
My guess is that it’s the sugar, (mostly fructose) in addition to the vitamin C, that your body needs to fight viruses, probably for just massive amounts of ATP production.
And I 'feel something coming on' an average(?) amount, like 1-3 times/year, and have only been sick like once in 12 years.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:44 PM on January 4

I get Stash's lemon ginger tea and drink it with a ton of honey, plus I add a big dollop of actual minced ginger and a couple tablespoons of actual lemon to it. Then I drink it until my throat feels better.

Also try not to talk to anyone too much or raise your voice as I find that tends to draw out the days of sore throat and cough from irritated throat.
posted by egeanin at 10:57 PM on January 4

I take ZMA nightly before bed, which contains zinc, magnesium, and some B6. I rarely get sick.
Vitamin C and/or hippie crack... er, Emergen-C... haven't worked for me as well.

If you're sick because of allergies, saline nasal rinse may get it out of your nose before more problems set in. (Allergies irritate your sinuses, they fill with snot, bacteria love it, and you get a sinus infection; short circuiting that route is a good plan.)

Seconding everyone's "get some rest", as that lets your body do it's best.
posted by talldean at 1:15 PM on January 5

Usually when I feel the onset of something and realize that 8 hours of sleep might not be a possibility, I usually immediately gargle with warm salt water, break out the Mucinex, increase the amount of Airborne I take, and (if I feel the least bit warm) start taking Tylenol (to kill any fever in its crib). It's not a guarantee, but in the past it's seemed to stop or at least reduce the onset of whatever I get (knock on wood!). Of course, rest is the best (there's been more than one occasion where I FINALLY managed to get the Required Amount of Sleep and my symptoms magically disappear by the next morning), but again if this isn't in the cards.

(I've also found that Chai Tea Lattes with extra chai/spice helps my throat, though this might not be a magic bullet).
posted by gtrwolf at 8:46 AM on January 6

Have you found anything that actually works?

No one can really answer this question on an individual level; some diseases peter out by themselves. Answers that "this cold wasn't so bad after I did X" the very definition of anecdata.


No-one who is in medicine thinks that rest is harmful for the immune system's function. Rest and hydration tend to be the most likely "do no harm" answers.

Inhaling alcohol vapor will kill many infections that begin in the nasal/oral tract. Take a shot glass half-ful of liquor, cover it with a napkin or scrap of paper, heat it in the microwave until it almost boils (very quick, usually <2>


posted by lalochezia at 4:16 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I swear by a hot toddy (shot of whiskey, rum, or cognac with lemon juice and honey stirred into a mug of steaming hot water) but you can just drink it. And don't have more than one or two.
posted by desuetude at 1:47 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


The alcohol vapor comment was mine. After some googling it appears that it is indeed potentially dangerous [article] [longer article][wikipedia]. In recreational use it can cause alcohol poisoning more easily than drinking, and can also burn the lungs/nasal cavities. Even though it seems to work for me, I can't in good faith recommend it to other people, given the risks. So yeah, please don't do this.
posted by smokysunday at 9:45 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]

I take a couple of Panadol (acetaminophen for those of you in the US), drink a lot of hot non-milk drinks, and try to rest. I feel it works but I'm fully aware it is probably a placebo effect :)
posted by andraste at 3:06 PM on January 8

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