I'm a snot factory, help!
October 4, 2006 10:16 PM   Subscribe

Why is it I seem to get head colds so easily?

I'm a fairly healthy guy who excercies regularly, eats right, gets enough sleep, takes vitamins and doesn't drink alcohol. I seem to get 4-8 head colds a year. I'm on my second one in a month and I'm at my wits end. I'm also prone to sinus infections and even though I'm not over weight I snore like it's my job. Am I just cursed?
posted by photoslob to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
High stress?
posted by knave at 10:18 PM on October 4, 2006

Easy ways to get colds

1) be around children
2) not washing hands before eating
3) sharing food or drinking containers.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 10:20 PM on October 4, 2006

The best advice I've gotten to reduce the amount of colds that I get is to wash my hands more frequently and for a longer duration (like thirty seconds, with soap and hot water). Try that- before every meal, after you go to the bathroom, and after you touch anything possibly germy.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:21 PM on October 4, 2006

Maybe it's not a cold, but an allergy?
posted by frogan at 10:27 PM on October 4, 2006

Things like allergies, excessive throat-clearing or coughing, etc can all rough up the mucosal layers of your nose and throat. This can provide an avenue for infection by pathogens.

If you're really worried, you could see your doctor and get some basic things like white-blood cell count checked out. This could tell you whether your immune system is part of the problem.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:29 PM on October 4, 2006

Not to get personal, but do you smoke? Do you pick your nose? Do you live/work in an area where there's constant air conditioning? These might be contributing factors. Look at your habits and lifestyle for clues.
posted by lekvar at 10:32 PM on October 4, 2006

Response by poster: I'm a serial hand washer so I don't think that's it and I'm pretty sure it's not allergies but I think I'm going to contact my doctor about getting checked out. I've been to the doctor about this before and I was prescribed all sorts of allergy meds to try but it seemed to not have any affect.
posted by photoslob at 10:34 PM on October 4, 2006

From a lifetime of Third World travel and much city living:

Wash hands as above, but especially get out of the habit of touching your eyes and nose for any reason, ever. The mouth is well-defended, the eyes and nose are the express route for bacteria and viruses. Get a set of handkerchiefs or bandannas, use them for all eye and nose issues. Wash them frequently.

To help implement: think of your hands as covered in onion juice whenever you've touched a surface, an object (including paper money), or a being. You'd avoid your eyes and nose then, wouldn't you?
posted by Phred182 at 10:36 PM on October 4, 2006

Response by poster: I don't smoke, I occasionally pick my nose (c'mon, everyone does it!) and I'm in FL so it goes without saying I'm ALWAYS in AC.
posted by photoslob at 10:36 PM on October 4, 2006

IANAD. Your "colds" might be complicated by underlying allergic reactions, physiology, or low level infections that are making it easy for rhino virus and the many other upper respiratory critters that like to colonize our mucous membranes. It would be a good idea to see an EENT (Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist to rule out the basics, before becoming a regular customer on the cold medicine aisle. And it's also the case now that many formerly OTC remedies like Claritin-D have just gone "behind the register" due to the formulas they have containing epinephrine or variants, so there's a little more hassle to get these products regularly if you need them, although they still don't require a prescription.

One thing you might try, which has no side effects, virtually no cost, and offers immediate relief is the hair dryer cure for the common cold. You just set a hair dryer on low heat and air settings, and breathe warm air through your nose, for 3 to 5 minutes. Rhino virus doesn't survive at temperatures above about 105 F, so if you warm and dry your nasal passages to that temperature, you are directly killing off virus there, and reducing greatly the wet nasal drip in which they flourish. And you may also be cutting down on your histamine allergic reaction, as you reduce the swelling of your mucuos membranes. Don't go hog wild, and use some lotion on your nostrils, nose and forehead to keep from drying your face unduly. Do this 3 or 4 times a day, and you should notice immediate relief, and a quick clear up of symptoms, if they are due to simple common cold.
posted by paulsc at 10:37 PM on October 4, 2006 [37 favorites]

Paulsc, that's very cool.
posted by Phred182 at 10:40 PM on October 4, 2006

Response by poster: I'll be breathing hair-dryer air first thing in the morning. Also, I've never really thought about it but I have a nervous habit of touching my nose. I guess I need to stop.
posted by photoslob at 10:45 PM on October 4, 2006

Maybe you're one of the 1 in 800 who has a mild defect in B lymphocyte maturation, also known as common variable immunodeficiency. Read more about it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:09 PM on October 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

And while it's being bandied around a lot today, supposedly neti pots are good for immune function, too.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:17 PM on October 4, 2006

I suggest taking at least 4 Horseradish & Garlic tablets per day. I do and I very rarely get sick. Once or twice a year, usually. Compare this to before I sued to take the tablets where I used to get sick (head colds, allergies, red eyes) at least once per month.

If you follow my advice, you'll need to take them for at least 4 days before they start to build up your defences. And then take them every day from there on in.

That's the best advice I can give you. Hope it helps.
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:45 PM on October 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

I keep zinc lozenges or Zicam around. Zinc actually works.

You contract a cold through your nose. Zinc blocks those cold receptors in your nasal passages. But, you have to take the zinc as soon as you feel the first symptoms of a cold to get the best effect. A few lozenges a day OR squirts of zicam really will cut the duration AND severity of your cold by about half. Most colds last about a week - with zinc 3-4 days. Zinc pills do not work. They go into your stomach, not your nasal passages.

BTW, I do not own zinc stock.
posted by wsg at 11:52 PM on October 4, 2006

1) be around children

What about this one? You can almost tell who has school-age kids at home by how many colds they get.

I snore like it's my job

You may want to see a doc about this as a separate issue.

Am I just cursed?

Doubtful - it sounds like you may have 2 or 3 different minor medical things going on.
posted by scheptech at 11:59 PM on October 4, 2006

Chemtrails. No, really.
posted by trevyn at 12:11 AM on October 5, 2006

My ENT doc says, on average, American adults get 3 upper respiratory infections and/or colds per year, so you're definitely above average . . .

I think snoring may be a clue. You may have some, um, generous folds of tissue up there that are keeping air from flowing as freely as it should. Lots of bacteria passes through the sinus/naval cavities -- all it takes is a blocked passage for it to start to take hold. Might consider a decongestant . . . ? (Though now you'll have to stand in line at the pharmacy, show them your driver's license, and generally be looked at suspiciously as though they just *know* you've got a meth lab in your basement -- still, it would be worth it if it really helped). Also, if you really do have a lot of excess baggage up there, you can get surgery for it. At the very least, you should at least get an X-ray of your sinuses to see if you have any abormalities.

By the way, how do you tell the difference between a cold and an infection? Sometimes docs can't even tell -- the symptoms could be nearly identical. Just wondering if you're really catching colds or if most of the colds are actually acute infections. In the latter case, talk to an ENT doctor about some kind of injection (don't remember what it's called) they can give you to protect you from the most common sinus-infection-causing bacteria -- they usually just give it to kids, but my ENT recommended it for me, and I think it's really helped.

Another thing I swear has helped me -- lots and lots and lots of vitamic C, especially when I start to feel cold-ish or I've been around sick people or in crowded environments. Emergen-C is great, as is Airborne. Important to take it when you first notice yourself feeling kind of icky -- not after the symptoms have taken hold (though it will still help).

Finally, assuming you were serious about this, DO NOT PICK YOUR NOSE. EVER. Do you pick your nose at least 4-8 times per year? Unless you thoroughly wash your hands immediately before every nose-picking, this behavior could easily explain every single one of your colds.
posted by treepour at 12:41 AM on October 5, 2006

I've found that eliminating dairy products from my diet has made a huge difference to the number of colds, sore throats, etc. I get.

I went from at least 6-8 a year to none in the first 18 months after I cut out dairy (then hospital, dairy, cold--but it's not really possible to attribute (or not) that one to the dairy).

I figure not having so much mucous floating around my nasal passages is what has made the difference.
posted by sarahw at 1:53 AM on October 5, 2006

supposedly neti pots are good for immune function, too.

There's no evidence for that.

Zinc actually works.

The American Lung Association says that the evidence on that is inconclusive. I have personally seen clinical studies that argue that zinc works, and also that it has no effect. But I'm too lazy to dig them up right now. Just know that this is not a settled scientific statement yet.

You contract a cold through your nose.

You can also contract it through your eyes.

Zinc blocks those cold receptors in your nasal passages.

Cold receptors??? What are you talking about? Sorry, this is just quackery. The suggested mechanism of action for zinc is that it prevents viral replication, although I'm not sure that the evidence for this is conclusive either.

In addition, one of the side effects of putting the stuff up your nose could be a permanent loss of smell. I doubt this is worth it for something of such unproven efficacy, and for which the manufacturers have exempted themselves from FDA regulation.

The only universally accepted prevention for the common cold is handwashing. Most people do a bad job of washing all the surfaces on their hands. To get everything you need to:
  1. Wash your palms (which is where most people stop)
  2. Wash the back of both of your hands. Make sure you wash up to the wrist, if possible. Lots of people miss the base of the thumb.
  3. Run your fingers through each other to wash interdigital spaces
  4. Run your fingers through each other again to catch the side of your hand that wasn't washed in the last step. The thumb is a frequently missed area.

posted by grouse at 2:46 AM on October 5, 2006

I had the same problem, caused by lactose intolerance. Get yourself tested for that (and other allergies, as previous people have already said).
posted by Lucie at 3:11 AM on October 5, 2006

In the latter case, talk to an ENT doctor about some kind of injection (don't remember what it's called) they can give you to protect you from the most common sinus-infection-causing bacteria -- they usually just give it to kids, but my ENT recommended it for me, and I think it's really helped.

I would be very grateful if you could jog your memory on this. You're not talking about the Pneumovax, are you?
posted by spaceman_spiff at 5:51 AM on October 5, 2006

Response by poster: Following up this morning: I've tried the zinc thing and it seems like it just keeps the cold at bay for a few days before it comes on strong. I already take multivitamins and vit C and B12 and I'm not really convinced vitamins do anything while I have the cold.

My wife is a school teacher so she's around kids but she seems to not get colds as often as I do and when she does it seems like she gets them from me. I also have a school-aged child but so far she also seems to not get them as often as I do.

I've tried the water-up-the-sinuses trick and it works when I genuinely feel an alergy coming on but for colds it's a world of pain for no real relief. And, I also have a good idea of when I'm having an alergy attack versus coming down with a cold. Allergies alway start with sinus pressure that get's intense and if I'm not careful turns into a sinus infection. I've found using Afrin to open up my sinuses so the funk can flow solves the sinus infection issue.

I'm going to schedule an appointment with an ENT as I'm thinking I may have a sinus issue that makes me more susceptible to getting colds. I'm also going to redouble my hand-washing efforts (my wife is going to think I'm even more OCD than I already am) and for grins try the hair dryer method just to see if it dries me out.
posted by photoslob at 8:00 AM on October 5, 2006

Do you still have your tonsils? I grew up in a time when the medical establishment was on a tear to keep your tonsils at any cost - presumably a response to the earlier fanaticism about removing them at the drop of a hat. I had strep about 1.5 times a year all through growing up and at least annual throat infections all through adulthood. I finally got fed up a few years ago and saw an ENT who concurred that they were huge and if they bothered me that we could cut em out.

In the following few years I haven't had a throat infection, I suffer from less headcolds and my apnea is gone. On the flip side, it was a horrific recovery even through three days of codine haze for the worst of it. This is definitely an operation that's easier on the young.
posted by phearlez at 8:33 AM on October 5, 2006

I've tried the water-up-the-sinuses trick

If you're not using proper salineated water it's going to hurt. Make sure to use the premixed packets or sea salt - iodized salt is also Bad.
posted by phearlez at 8:35 AM on October 5, 2006


All I remember is the following. I'll try asking my ENT and, if I can still post here when I found out, I'll post the info.

a) They usually only give the injection to kids, the elderly, or people with immune disorders; it's not an uncommon injection, but apparently the medical establishment doesn't often think of it in terms of people who don't fit into the above categories. (My ENT thought it was strange that more doctors don't think about giving it to people with frequent/chronic sinus infections).

b) It immunizes you against certain strains of bacteria which account for a significant percantage of upper respiratory infections (don't remember what percent, but it might have been anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2).

c) The injection works for several years, but not forever.

d) It's just a normal injection, quite painless, given in the arm.
posted by treepour at 10:39 AM on October 5, 2006

Your wife and child are bringing them home to you. They've long ago had and gotten over many of the things they encounter daily, so it's not making them sick anymore, but you remain susceptible.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:42 AM on October 5, 2006

As for vitamins, it's a controversial topic, but some people think vit C in unsually large doses (check out the dose levels on something like Emergen-C or Airborne) give the immune system a terrific boost. I'm one of those people, though I'm willing to admit there might be an element of placebo here. At any rate, the amount of vit C in multivitamins is rarely this high.

For water-in-the-sinuses, the only things that DON'T hurt my sinuses are: a) the right mixture of sterile-as-possible water and sea salt; or b) a lovely but expensive product I wish I'd invented called "Simply Saline" -- a small can of sterile saline solution with no preservatives, and which produces a misting spray. Ocean and other saline solution products always burn my sinuses; either the mix of salt & water isn't right, or it's the preservatives.
posted by treepour at 10:55 AM on October 5, 2006

Response by poster: I dose myself with extra vit C in the form of EmergenC powder when I get a cold but I've never felt like it did much. If anything it might lessen the legnth of time I have a cold by a day or two but that's it.

I'm also careful about mixing a saline solution from sea salt when I do the water-up-the-nose thing. I've found that if I do it with cooler water it shrinks my sinuses offering short-term relief.
posted by photoslob at 11:35 AM on October 5, 2006

I too live in Florida and deal with allergies and recycled air and whatnot. I was given a tip a while back that a daily nettle pill (you can buy it at GNC or the like) would help me from getting so many colds and sinus infections and I'll be damned if it doesn't work. Granted, I have been doing it for a year and while it may be partly a placebo effect, I have not been sick yet this year.

*shatters knuckles knocking on wood... *

I, like many of you, am/was naturally skeptical of the new-agey herbal remedies but I have had luck with this one. Worth a shot since a bottle is like 6 bucks and could last you 3 months.
posted by ro50 at 11:55 AM on October 5, 2006

Treepour: yeah, that sounds like Pneumovax, which inoculates against pneumococcus. Thanks. (FWIW, I've had it. It's been about a year, and while I didn't get any pneumococcal infections, they seemed to just be replaced by other pathogens. Still not a bad idea, though.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:08 PM on October 5, 2006

"Wash your hands" did it for me.

I had a couple of winters with bronchitis infections. Colds are really nasty afterwards. My doc said the best thing to do was wash my hands (After bathroom of course, but also before eating, and before going to bed). I was skeptical. I tried it. I'm not skeptical any more.

You have to make sure that you wash for long enough: 20 seconds or so. Sing a little song. The alphabet song is just about 20 seconds, as is a full verse of Happy Birthday. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star remains my favourite.

So, if you run across someone humming nursery rhymes in a public washroom someday, know that they're just following their doctor's orders.
posted by bonehead at 6:41 PM on October 5, 2006

Response by poster: I forgot to mention my tonsils came out when I was 8. My mom tells me I had serious ear-nose-throat problems when I was a kid.
posted by photoslob at 9:36 PM on October 5, 2006

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