Tonawanda News

January 31, 2011

Should you feed your cold?

By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News

— It’s that time of year again. Time for the sniffles, the congestion, that nagging cough. It’s winter and everyone’s getting sick with whatever it is that’s “going around.”

Whether it’s the flu or a simple head cold, ask anyone ... they’ve all got some remedy passed down from their mother’s mother’s mother and so on. Some are common knowledge — and thus are assumed to be true — while others sound downright absurd.

Dr. Semira Khawar at Ken-Ton Family Care in the Town of Tonawanda weighs in on some of this medical folklore and tells the Tonawanda News what works and what doesn’t. Spoiler alert: Not a lot.

• Feed a cold and starve a fever. Maybe the ultimate old wives’ tale, a common theory is to force yourself to eat even if you lose your appetite which is common when you have a cold. On the other side of the coin, this adage says the patient should avoid eating if a fever is present.

Khawar says this common saying has absolutely no validity to it and that those who are ill with a cold or fever should eat if and when they feel like it. To her, the key is keeping hydrated.

“You want to prevent yourself from being dehydrated. (If you’re sick), you are mouth breathing most of the time and you’re sweating if you have a mild fever ... but you want to keep yourself hydrated,” Khawar said.

While it may not be pleasant dinner conversation, Khawar says keeping a good eye on the color of your urine is the best way to prevent dehydration. If you’re properly hydrated, normal colored urine is light yellow and should not be darker. Additionally, you should be urinating every three to five hours. Any longer and you should be taking in more fluids.

• Drink honey with tea or gargle with salt water for a sore throat. Khawar concedes that drinking honeyed tea and gargling with warm salt water can help soothe a sore throat but that’s about it.

“There’s no scientific research that shows that it does ... . You have to understand that there’s a pathologic basis for (the illness) — viral, bacterial. If it’s viral, that is going to take its course, if it’s bacterial you take antibiotics,” Khawar said.

Basically, tea, salt water, cough drops and things of this sort provide symptom relief but not treatment. Even over-the-counter medications do nothing to shorten the length of the illness when it comes to colds.

“You’re going to take medications that are comforting but they’re not going to shorten the period and they’re not going to cure it,” Khawar said.

• Be sure to take your Vitameatavegamin. There are lots of theories about vitamins and what they can do to help you out with a cold. Some believe that taking vitamin C, echinacea and zinc, among others, can help prevent a cold or the flu or even cut the illness short.

Not so, says Khawar.

“No real hard-core studies have proven them to be beneficial. Zinc can be a little harmful ... like Zicam, if you spray it in your nose, it can cause loss of smell. So you should be careful,” Khawar said.

But what about orange juice? Well, it helps to keep you hydrated, but that’s the extent of its helpfulness.

• Eat chicken noodle soup. Khawar points out that this remedy is more than just a wives’ tale. The University of Nebraska did a study that shows there is actually some amount of improvement in cold patients who eat chicken noodle soup.

The doctor adds that it doesn’t hurt that the soup is largely a liquid and can help keep you hydrated, so go ahead and slurp up if you have the appetite.

 “Again you want to be drinking ... chicken noodle soup is liquid, it’s warm, it’s soothing and it may be somewhat beneficial.”

• Neti pot ... as seen on TV. Another home remedy that Khawar recommends to her patients is the neti pot. The device has seen an increase in attention and popularity with recent television infomercials, but Khawar says it actually helps, especially with allergies.

“It helps to wash out the virus that tends to live in your nose. Also, the pollen and allergens that are in the air, they go into the nose if you rinse your nose, I think it helps,” Khawar said.

• “You’ll catch your death ...” Mom and grandma always tell you to bundle up before heading outside. If you’re not completely adorned with coat, scarf, gloves, hat and long underwear, they’ll threaten you with the prospect of catching a cold.

But it’s not actually the act of being outside in the cold that makes you sick, says Khawar. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

“What happens is that you see a rise in cold and flu outbreaks more in the autumn and winter months,” Khawar said. “But we feel that it’s mostly because people are more indoors and they have closer contact (with other people) than usual and that is why the outbreaks occur.”