Respiratory Bugs

The flu season has hit, and it has hit in spades.  When I’m not at home managing my tribe, I spend my time at the local emergency room working as a nurse, and the vast majority of patients are coming in complaining of flu symptoms –cold, cough, runny nose, congestion, sore throat, fever…Currently, I’m fighting off respiratory bugs in my own household. (Love to bring my work home with me).

The common cold can be caused by over 200 different viruses, and is described as an infection of the upper respiratory tract. Symptoms include head congestion, sore throat, coughing, headache, fever, sneezing, watery eyes, along with aches and pains. Most colds clear up in a week or so, but sometimes can lead to more serious complications, including pneumonia, flu or bronchitis.

Of course, because I’m an ER nurse, I like to give you the gamut–what symptoms you can manage at home, when you should take it up with your provider, and when it’s time to head to the local ER. You’re welcome.

The following are the basic symptoms and manageable at home:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills.
  • Cough.
  • Sore throat.
  • Runny or stuffy nose.
  • Muscle or body aches.
  • Headaches.
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

When should you see your provider, you ask? If you just can’t kick the symptoms over 2 or 3 days, have a sore throat with a fever (possible strept throat), or are feeling mildly dehydrated and might need some basic IV fluids, call your family provider.

When is it time to get to the ER? Sometimes respiratory bugs lead to emergencies. Sad, but true, I’ve seen plenty of uber sick patients with respiratory bugs over the last few weeks. (Probably where I got mine, and then gave it to my lovely fam–mea culpa) If you start with the following, then just go-straight to the ER.

  1. Fast breathing(tachypnea) or trouble breathing (shortness of breath)
  2. Bluish or gray skin color
  3. Not drinking enough fluids
  4. Severe or persistent vomiting
  5. Not waking up or not interacting
  6. Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and cough

Now, back to treating this heinousness at home….

When you have a cold, you feel miserable, but add in sore throat, fever, and generalized achiness, it changes miserable to unbearable. (Yes, I thinking whining over respiratory bugs gets worse as I age.) When the respiratory bugs hit, I am sorely tempted to stop over at the local drugstore and pick up anything that will make me feel better, but as I always say….It starts with food and gets better with oils.  

So what do you do when you are sick, and feeling miserable, and just want to feel better?  The following are some suggestions (and things I’m doing right now with my own family to manage our bugs without resorting to our local ER) to help you feel better without reverting to medication:

1. Warm baths with essential oils and Epsom salts.  My essential oil arsenal for colds include eucalyptus oil-5 drops, tea tree oil-5 drops, lavender oil-5 drops, Epsom salts-1 cup. Place the oils and salt in your warm bath and relax.  For a quick fix, you can place 6 drops of eucalyptus oil in a cup of boiling water and inhale the steam. This one really opens up the nasal passages and aids congestion.

2. Lemon oil gargle. For a sore throat, add 3 to 6 drops of pure lemon oil to warm water and gargle. You can repeat this up to 3 times daily. (Note–if you are having sore throat with fevers, you may have strept throat and will need an antibiotic to clear this up, so see your regular provider if this is the case).

3. Drink plenty of fluids. Keep your body  hydrated by drinking water, or lemon,  ginger tea, or chicken broth.

4. Stay away from sugar. Sugar has a bad reputation for tanking your immune system, and I would have to agree. Any time I’ve eaten anything with sugar in it when I have a respiratory bug, the congestion immediately gets worse, and I’m miserable. Stay away from sugar during this time, even the good sweeteners, like raw honey and pure maple syrup.

5. Try this remedy.  I found this cayenne pepper remedy in an old herbal medicine book years ago, and have always had success with it. The tough part is that it tastes hideous. (I think my sister described it glowingly as tasting like boiled backside.) Any time I take it, my symptoms tend to resolve quickly, and I definitely feel much better after taking it. The cayenne can be tough on sensitive stomachs, so be careful and try small doses through the day.


cayenne pepper 2 tsp

sea salt–1 1/2 teaspoon

boiling water- 1 cup

raw apple cider vinegar–1 cup

Mix together the cayenne pepper and salt. Add boiling water. Steep together and then cool. Once cooled down, add in the raw apple cider vinegar. You can take between a teaspoon and tablespoon every hour if you need it. If it seems too strong, you can also dilute it.

6.  Eat your chicken soup:

I made this today as an inspiration from Dr. Henry Bieler’s Food is Your Best Medicine. Dr. Bieler created a vitamin and nutrient rich broth to heal his patients, and I’ve used it many a time when I need a pick up. Because I’m a firm believer that good chicken broth heals the dead, I add in a chicken carcass.

Kristi’s Chicken Zoodle Bieler broth:

celery: 3 stalks diced

zucchini: 3 mediums diced

string beans: 2 cups diced

water: 4 quarts

Chicken carcass

Bring the water to a boil, and add in the chicken and veggies. Let cook on a simmer for about an hour or 2.  Remove the bones, add in some salt and pepper to taste and eat all day long.

I wanted a chicken soup based on Bieler’s broth, but one that would give you  protein and veggies during this healing time.  Even though you may not feel up to eating much, your body still needs plenty of nourishing foods. Here is the whole recipe for my bone broth and for the chicken soup.  Add in the green beans and zucchini to the original recipe.

7.  Wash your hands.  Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician who lived in the early 1800’s discovered that the simple act of hand washing could drastically cut the incidence of puerperal fever in pregnant women, reducing mortality to below 1%.  These are incredible statistics, and remain the same for today. When you blow your nose, wash your hands. Before you eat, wash your hands. Before you touch your face, wash your hands. You get the idea. Simple soap and water. Marvelous things.

8. Keep moving. Remain active. Staying in bed for a cold is unnecessary and probably will make you feel worse. Some simple yoga, or even a brisk walk out doors (unless the temperature is extremely cold), can help loosen up mucus and fluids, and make you feel better. I know that while I don’t really want to do much exercise when I have a cold,  I always feel better after I’ve done it.

9. Drink coconut water. Coconuts are fantastic superfoods and have wonderful healing properties. Cultured coconut water is a fantastic healing drink during sickness and ranks up there in keeping you hydrated.

10. Get plenty of rest. While I don’t advocate staying in bed all day, your body still needs plenty of rest. Sleep propped up with a couple of pillows if congestion is a problem, but get at least 8 hours at night. If you can, sneak in a nap during the day as well. (I know, I know–don’t throw things…)