Within 72 hours of starting kindergarten, my daughter caught a cold, and within 72 hours of that, she gave it to me.
The common cold sucks. It affects millions of people every year causing misery and lost days of school and work. It’s terribly hard to prevent, and there aren’t really any effective treatments. Vitamin C, Echinacea, zinc—all useless. Newer, more expensive antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays, both of which are great for allergies, don’t seem to help either. I find myself dispensing lots of grandmotherly advice this time of year. Thankfully, tonight is Rosh Hashanna and there’s very likely to be chicken soup, which always feels good on a sore throat. Hot tea with honey, warm saline nasal irrigation, oral decongestants, antihistamines, and ibuprofen can all help mitigate symptoms, but nothing makes a cold go away faster. A depressingly large number of patients want The Secret Cold Cure that I must be withholding from them. I remind them that if I had this secret cure, I’d be a very wealthy man. Antibiotics are also useless (and dangerous).
The loathsome National Center or Complementary and Alternative Medicine displays the usual foolishly tenacious (and wrong) thinking about some cold remedies:
What the Science Says
- Study results are mixed on whether echinacea effectively treats colds or flu. For example, two NCCAM-funded studies did not find a benefit from echinacea, either as Echinacea purpurea fresh-pressed juice for treating colds in children, or as an unrefined mixture of Echinacea angustifolia root and Echinacea purpurea
root and herb in adults. However, other studies have shown that
echinacea may be beneficial in treating upper respiratory infections.
- Most studies to date indicate that echinacea does not appear to prevent colds or other infections.
- NCCAM is continuing to support the study of echinacea for the
treatment of upper respiratory infections. NCCAM is also studying
echinacea for its potential effects on the immune system.
In other words, the science says that Echinacea is useless for the prevention or treatment of colds, but they’ll keep looking at it until a false positive result on a study helps justify their continued drain on precious resources. After all, the people demand it (or at least Tom Harkin does).
Who can blame cold victims though. Right now, I’m feeling their pain; I’d love that secret cure. But I’m only a couple of hours away from my mother-in-law’s chicken soup, and that’ll do just fine.