Stop! You’re Making Your Cold Worse

DT sorts out facts from myths to help you and your students survive cold and flu season.

Dancers are not the type to cringe at a little pain and suffering. So whether you’re one of those who insists it’s “just allergies” until you’re running a fever of 103 or prides herself on simply toughing out any illness, chances are you’re not giving your body everything it needs when you get that inevitable cold or flu. The good news is there are ways to properly treat common viruses to avoid missing a whole week of work. The goal is to be “healthy sick,” says Dr. Patrick Donovan, a naturopathic primary care physician who treats dancers from Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. That means, “maybe the first day or two you stay home and rest, but then you’re back at work—not overworking yourself—then coming home and relaxing.” Donovan tells his dancer patients to call him at the first sign of the sniffles so he can recommend steps to stop an illness in its tracks, or at least shorten its duration and intensity. From upending common misconceptions about treatments to sharing his never-fail sore-throat cure, Donovan gave us his best cold season survival tips tailored for dancers and their teachers. You’ll want to keep these pages on hand all winter long.

Truth or Myth

Cold Cures and Flu Fixes

1. If you feel a cold or flu coming on, you can shake it off with a workout.

Maybe, but listen to your body. If you’re getting the pre-cold blahs and you feel like a dance class would give you a boost, go for it. Donovan says it won’t hurt and could help, though there is no research to suggest that “sweating out” an illness works. If, however, you feel the ickiness coming on and it’s all you can do to buy a box of tissues before you fall into bed, do it. “Sometimes we get sick so that we rest,” says Donovan. “It’s the body’s way of saying, ‘You’re pushing too much.’”

2. If you have a fever, bring it down.

False, if you can stand it. From what researchers can tell, fevers seem to be an important part of fighting illness. As long as they stay hydrated, teens and adults can safely suffer fevers up to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. If your temperature gets higher than that or if you are uncomfortable or losing sleep, take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce the temperature.

3. Feed a cold, starve a fever.

Not exactly. You should eat lightly under both conditions. Even if you can stomach it, Donovan says you should avoid eating heavy meals while you have a cold or flu, because heavy digestion requires lots of energy and blood supply—resources that could be fighting the virus. It’s most important to stay hydrated and keep your electrolyte levels solid. Broths, or chicken soup with garlic and onions—which have antiviral qualities—often appeal when other foods don’t. They provide sodium and potassium while going easy on the digestive tract.

4. You are only contagious during the first two days of an illness.

Mostly true. A cold or flu is most communicable during the first 24 to 72 hours of having symptoms. That’s why it’s good practice to stay home—away from students and co-workers—at the first sign of an illness, even if you still have the energy to be in class. You are likely safe to return to work once your fever goes down. This indicates your immune system has the illness under control.

5. You can “power through” a cold. It might feel awful, but there’s no risk.

False. “That’s the thing with dancers,” says Donovan. “They are passionate, dedicated and stubborn. They want to push too far.” If you’re dragging yourself through too many classes and rehearsals with a cold or flu, your immune system struggles to keep up, prolonging the illness and making it easier to catch a secondary infection, like a sinus infection or pneumonia.

Supplemental Support

These are a few of the vitamins and minerals Donovan recommends, shown to help shorten the duration and intensity of cold/flu viruses. Start taking them at the first sign of an illness, and keep it up for about a week. Talk to your doctor about recommended dosages.

Vitamin D3: Modulates immune system response

Vitamin C: Improves white blood cell function

Vitamin A: Encourages antiviral activity in the body

Zinc: Prevents virus from attaching to membranes

The Best Medicine

Nope, not laughter. When you’re down and out, make sure you’re living by these cornerstones of cold and flu treatment.

Fluids

For every degree of fever, you should consume an additional liter of fluid, says Donovan. That’s on top of the recommended 64 ounces a day. In addition to plain water, try coconut water to keep your electrolytes balanced. It’s high in potassium and magnesium and low in calories and added sugars. Or, try a miso broth with shiitakes for a liquid sodium boost combined with mushrooms’ antiviral qualities.

Sleep

“Sleep is medicine,” says Donovan. You should be striving for seven or eight hours per night. If you can’t sleep with a cold, though, don’t get out of bed. “Lie there. Make it meditative. Allow the body to rest.”

Teachers, rejoice!

You can have your voice!

When you have to speak all day, there’s nothing worse than a lingering sore throat. Donovan recommends this gargle—tested by professional singers—for any time you’re feeling hoarse. It should not be used to treat strep throat or other infections that require antibiotics, but can be used along with appropriate antibiotics.

Mix:

2 oz. water

2 oz. real lemon juice

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/2 tsp. cayenne powder

Gargle and spit to clear postnasal drip and soothe your throat.

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