As I’ve mentioned before, I am a germ-phobe.
I’d like to think that I’m becoming better as I get older, but I’m sure others would disagree with me. To add to this, I am extremely allergic and prone to sinus infections. If I get any type of cold or bug, it always morphs into a sinus infection – and it sucks. Since going vegan, I’ve managed to significantly reduce the amount of time I spend in the ENT’s office. I would say my sinus infections occur less than half frequently than they have in the past, which is amazing. However, there are a few other things that you can do to prevent getting sick during the dreaded cold and flu season — and to be honest, I practice the following things year-round.
1) Keep yourself clean.
Pretend that everything around you is contaminated all the time. Everything that you touch contaminates you. I hope that I don’t have to tell you to wash your hands after you use the restroom (if I do, who raised you, Oscar Madison?) Wash them before you eat and before you touch your face. If you take a piece of gum out of your mouth, use a tissue, not your fingers. If you’re using your work refrigerator or microwave, wash your hands after touching them (I’m serious – work appliances are usually filthy). Wash them after feeding your animals, cleaning out litter boxes, picking things up off the floor, wiping up messes, etc. Wash any part of your body that’s exposed before you go to bed – your face, hands, and forearms. If you wear shorts or a skirt, rinse off before bed. And whatever you do, shower after going to the gym – no matter what. Otherwise you are basically one giant petri dish of germs, sweat, and bacteria.
Up until the time I was in my early twenties, I was a chronic nose-bleeder. As a kid, my pediatrician used to tell me to put Neosporin in my nose to keep it moist and prevent infection. Since I was in the habit of doing that anyway, it occurred to me that this could also have a hidden benefit: preventing germs from entering your nose. I put bacitracin in my nose every morning before I leave the house, as a barrier against airborn allergens and pollutants, and I swear it helps.
3) Neti Pot
Oh, the Neti Pot. When I told my ENT about my love of the Neti Pot, she looked at me and said, “isn’t that what they used to use in the 70s?” Well, call me an old hippie then, because the Neti Pot has done more for my chronic sinusitis and allergies than most antihistamines have done over the course of my life. Think of your entire nasopharynx and sinuses as a screen: they catch pollutants entering your nasal airways and prevent them from entering your throat and lungs. Have you ever looked at your screens after a long spring and summer? They are filthy with all the dirt and pollen that’s blown through them over the season. The same holds true for your sinuses. Your sinuses, like any screen or filter, need to be washed.
Neti pots come in different variations: the originals look like a genie lamp and are usually ceramic, others look like a squeeze bottle, but they both perform the same function. Warm water and saline are poured into one of your nostrils, allowed to flow through your sinuses, and drain out the other side. I use the NeilMed Sinus Rinse Bottle with the Isotonic saline packets. You can view Youtube tutorials on how to use a Neti Pot, and Google (as well as your local pharmacy and health food store) has multiple suggestions for saline additives that are supposed to enhance the antimicrobial effects of the salt water.
I have tried different additives when I feel a sinus infection coming on: a few drops of iodine, peroxide, etc. I have found that the best thing is regular Apple Cider Vinegar. ACV is a natural mucus-thinner and has its own antimicrobial benefits. If I feel like I’m coming down with something, I add about 1/4 capful of Apple Cinder Vinegar to the NeilMed Hypertonic Saline Packets (hypertonic means a larger concentration of saline – which will draw out more mucus if you are congested and in pain. The Isotonic solution is formulated to match the saline levels in your body). I recommend only using a Hypertonic solution when you are feeling particularly congested or sick, otherwise you can dry out your nasal passages, particularly if you are using the Neti Pot in conjunction with over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, or nasal sprays.
As a bonus, using the Neti Pot before you use your nasal spray can make the nasal spray more effective, since it’s working on a cleaner area 🙂
When you use the Neti Pot, be sure to let some of the saline fluid drain down the back of your throat over your nasopharyngeal area before spitting it out. That’s an area where lots of sinus infections tend to brew — it’s right near your adenoids (another screen!) and where your nose meets the back of your throat.
How many times you use the Neti pot is up to you. Personally, I do it at least twice a day (first thing in the morning and first thing when I come home). If I go to the gym, I Neti afterwards. If I dust or clean, I Neti afterward. If I don’t Neti after coming home from work, I immediately feel a sinus headache coming on, especially since I work in a public library where there is lots of dust and germs!
I cannot stress this enough: gargle with Peroxide. During cold and flu season, I do this every night after brushing my teeth. You can mix it with a little warm water if the full-strength feels too harsh. This kills the germs in your mouth and gets all the gunk and post-nasal-drip out of the back of your throat.
5) Echicancea, Vitamin C, Zinc
The holy trinity of cold and flu prevention. Along with my multivitamin, I take Echinacea and Vitamin C every day no matter what, but I’ll double up on the amount I take during cold and flu season and add in a Zinc tablet. Be sure to take Zinc with food since it can cause an upset stomach. I notice a difference right away, and while it can’t prevent all sickness, I certainly believe it cuts down in the quantity of bugs you pick up over the winter.
Hopefully these 5 tips will help keep you in the clear! As always, maintaining a good diet and exercise routine helps boost your immune system and helps keep you healthy, too.