No cure for common cold or remedy


March 07, 1995|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

The trouble with being in the health business is that people expect you to have answers to pesky problems. If one of us comes down with sniffles, sneezes or a stuffy nose, people look at us funny, as though we should know better. Then they ask the inevitable question: "What are you taking for your cold?"

Let's get one thing straight. There is no way to avoid catching colds. You can wash your hands all you want, eat right, get enough sleep and generally lead an exemplary life and you will still catch an occasional cold.

So, what do we take? Darn little, to tell the truth. Most cold remedies contain a hodgepodge of ingredients that won't really make you feel much better.

Antihistamines are key ingredients in most over-the-counter products for colds and flu. Their value remains highly controversial, especially for children. Although histamine does play a role in allergy symptoms, there is doubt that it is important when you have a virus. Medical consultants for Consumers Union say that antihistamines have no place in cold remedies.

Finding a product without an antihistamine can be a challenge. Although the advertisements show people going back to work in great shape, such drugs often make people drowsy and lethargic. According to Consumer Reports on Health, "the maximum recommended dose of some antihistamines can slow reaction time more than the amount of alcohol that would make driving illegal in most states."

Decongestants won't slow you down or impair coordination. But if you take one at bedtime so that you can breathe through your nose while you sleep, you might be in for a rude awakening. For some people, ingredients such as pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine can be stimulating and lead to irritability, jitters and insomnia.

Pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen are rarely appropriate for colds, which generally do not cause a high fever or aches and pains. Adding such drugs to the mix just increases the risk of side effects.

That's why we skip most cold remedies. We do tend to cook up a big pot of chicken soup, with lots of garlic, onions and spices. Billions of mothers worldwide have relied on that cure for thousands of years.

Many people have volunteered their own home remedies. Frank says, "Here in Texas, folks eat onions for the common cold. You consume them raw, boiled and fried, and eat bowls of onion soup. If that doesn't work, reinforce it with a few chunks of garlic."

Carol says eating a raw dandelion root at the first sign of symptoms "knocks a cold out clean."

June maintains that vitamin C relieves her sneezing "almost instantly."

Hot toddies are still popular. Mary's has been used for three generations. She mixes half a cup of hot water with 2 tablespoons of sugar or honey and 3 tablespoons of bourbon. She says, "Sip slowly -- relief or sleep will follow."

No matter what you do for your sniffles, they will likely last about a week. Tincture of time is the only sure cure for the common cold.

Q: Over the years my wife has become a lot less interested in sex. She usually waits for me to get things started. It makes me uncomfortable that I always have to be the one to suggest sex.

My wife says that men are just more highly sexed than women. Maybe so, but I wonder if her birth control pills could be responsible for her lack of libido.

A: Hormones can affect sexuality, and progesterone-like chemicals found in some birth control pills and in Provera are notorious for dampening desire.

Whether men or women are more sexual is hard to say. We have heard from a woman in a situation similar to yours:

"My husband has not touched me in over six months. We sleep in the same bed, but nothing ever happens. People tell me I am attractive, and I have kept my figure. We used to make love once or twice a week. Now I cannot seem to get him interested at all. He has high blood pressure and takes medicine, but I doubt that is the whole story."

His blood pressure pills might not be the whole story, but they could be a piece of the puzzle. Impotence can make men insecure and unwilling to initiate sex.

We are sending you our Guide to Drugs that Affect Sexuality. It lists common culprits and suggests some alternatives, as well as ways to treat impotence. Anyone who would like a copy should send $2 with a self-addressed, stamped, No. 10 envelope to Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. Y-36, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Your wife should talk to her doctor about contraceptive options. A change might make a difference, and counseling could help also.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.

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