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Coughs, Colds and Flu

Coughs, Colds and Flu Defined

The common cold is an upper respiratory infection that can include symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing, nasal discharge, sore throat, low-grade fever, headache and cough. The common cold is transmitted mostly be aerosol droplets or airborne particles that are transferred from one person to another by coughing, sneezing, or direct hand contact.

The vast majority of coughs, colds, and flu are caused by viral infections, not bacterial infections, so they do not respond to antibiotics.(1)  Some viral infections can descend down into the lungs, like bronchitis, and are called a lower respiratory infection.

True influenza is a more intense viral illness than the common cold and can include symptoms such as a high fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, fatigue, nasal congestion, and cough. The flu is more serious and for certain populations such as infants, elderly, pregnant women, and the immune compromised there is a higher risk of death from the flu due to subsequent infections such as pneumonia.

Conventional Treatment

Conventional treatment of acute coughs and colds typically includes the use of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.

In 2005 a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report was published on infant deaths from cough and cold medications. It reported that 1519 children under the age of two were treated in emergency departments for adverse events associated with OTC cough and cold preparations. Some of the serious adverse effects from these OTC cough medicines included tachycardia, decreased levels of consciousness, seizures and even death.

In October of 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) supported labeling of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines because they should not be used in children younger than four years old due to serious and potentially life-threatening side effects as well as lack of evidence of efficacy. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also supports this and says that “OTC cough and cold medicines not be given to infants and small children because they have not been proven effective and can be harmful.” (2)

Certain cough medicines called antitussives, or cough suppressants, like codeine and dextromethorphan, have not been shown to be very effective in the treatment of chronic coughs. There is even some thought that any beneficial effect of these medicines may be due to a placebo effect. (3 – 5)

For influenza, there are some specific antiviral medications, some of which the CDC is now saying are having problems with resistance to the current circulating strains of influenza.(5) Drugs like acetaminophen are often suggested to help lower fevers and offer symptomatic relief. Children under the age of 16 who have symptoms of influenza or colds should not be given aspirin because of a risk of developing Reye syndrome, which is potentially fatal.

Additionally, there are also vaccines available each year for that season’s predicted flu strains. In years when a major pandemic flu outbreak occurs, like the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu, they may offer an individualized flu shot for that specific strain of the flu.

Homeopathic Treatment

Homeopathy is a system of medicine that has been used worldwide safely and successfully for over 200 years, and lives up to the Hippocratic principle of first doing no harm. Homeopathy recognizes the body’s innate ability to heal, and provides natural medicines that support the body’s own healing capacity. Furthermore, homeopathy is grounded in a scientific method and supported by clinical research.

Since there are not many effective conventional treatments for viral infections like coughs, colds and flu’s, thankfully, homeopathy is a safe and effective natural treatment. (6 – 9).

Case Study: Flu

During the H1N1 Swine Flu outbreak of 2009, we effectively treated many people who were infected with that flu with homeopathy. One case was a 42-year-old woman who came in for treatment with a high fever of 103.2F, cough, sore throat, chills, and body aches for the previous twelve hours. We tested her via nasal pharyngeal swab for the swine flu and she came back positive. Since it was during the time of a large outbreak, there was significant data being collected that people were often suffering from the high fevers and flu symptoms for about ten days or more.

We prescribed an individualized homeopathic medicine based on her unique symptoms of the flu. By morning her fever had broken and she said, “even though I’m still sick I feel so much better!”

Within five days she was back to work and symptom free. We often see this type of rapid response to homeopathic treatment in acute conditions like colds, flu, and coughs, and it is supported by the research referenced in the “Homeopathy” section of this page (see above). Our goal with homeopathic treatment is to help stimulate the patient to self-heal from the illness more gently and rapidly than they could do on their own without any treatment.

Self Care

While sick, the immune system is most active during sleep. In fact, a recent study showed that people who get less than seven hours of sleep per night are more than three times more likely to catch a cold.(15) Staying home from school and work to rest and get extra sleep is the most important thing people can do to quickly get over being sick and decrease the transmission of the illness to others. You may want to look into Echinacea, Vitamin C or Elderberry Syrup as described in the “Other Treatments” section.

Tips to Reduce Spreading Germs (16):

  1. Always wash your hands. Especially after you wipe your nose, change a child’s diaper or use the restroom, and before and after eating.
  2. Keep things clean. Disinfect and clean surfaces that are commonly touched by dirty hands, like sink handles and doorknobs.
  3. Try for smaller class sizes. For children in daycare and preschool, some studies have found that where there are fewer than six children in a class, exposure to germs is greatly reduced.
  4. Use instant hand sanitizers when you don’t have access to washing with water and soap. Hand sanitizers use alcohol and are able to kill about 99% of germs.
  5. Use paper towels instead of cloth towels when you’re sick.


1. American Academy of Pediatrics 2005 ‘Antibiotics and your Child’

3. Chung KF. Chronic cough: future directions in chronic cough: mechanisms and antitussives. Chron Respir Dis. 2007;4(3):159-65. 

4. Bolser DC. Pharmacologic management of cough. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. Feb 2010;43(1):147-55, xi.

6. Maiwald VL, Weinfurtner T, Mau J, Connert WD. Treatment of common cold with a combination homeopathic preparation compared with acetylsalicylic acid. A controlled, randomized single-blind study. Arzneimittelforschung 1988; 38: 578–582.

7. Schmiedel V, Klein P. A complex homeopathic preparation for the symptomatic treatment of upper respiratory infections associated with the common cold: An observational study. Explore (NY) 2006; 2: 109–114.

8. Bordes LR, Dorfman P. Evaluation of the antitussive effect of Drosetux syrup: double-blind study versus placebo. Cahiers d’ORL 1986; 21: 731–734.

9. Ferley JP, Zmirou D, D’Adhemar D, Balducci F. A controlled evaluation of a homoeopathic preparation in the treatment of influenza like syndromes. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 1989; 27: 329–335.

10. Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections. The Journal of International Medical Research, Volume 32, Number 2, March 2004. pp. 132-140(9)

11. Shah SA, Sander S, White CM, Rinaldi M, Coleman CI. Evaluation of Echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis. The Lancet Infections Diseases. July 2007:7(7)

12. Melchart D, Linde K, Fischer P, Kaesmayr J. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 1999, Issue 1

13. Cohen HA, Varsano I, Kahan E, et al. Effectiveness of an herbal preparation containing echinacea, propolis, and vitamin C in preventing respiratory tract infections in children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2004: 158; 217-21

14. Douglas RM, Hemila H, D’Souza R, et al. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2004, Issue 4.

15. Cohen S, Doyle W, Alper C, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner R. Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(1):62-67.