Cold and flu season comes around every year generally running from about Thanksgiving to Easter. As it reaches it’s peak here in the US along with the new, Coronavirus, it’s important to focus on prevention and safe treatment. When you have migraine disease, adding an additional illness on top of it can definitely complicate things. Developing tools for migraine and flu relief is the key.
Cold and flu symptoms entwined with migraine make body aches, brain fog and fatigue unbearable. So knowing how to work through both illnesses at the same time is necessary. The last thing you want to do is unknowingly trigger a migraine attack while trying to manage your cold and flu symptoms.
Because everyone’s personal triggers and comorbid conditions are different it’s important to develop a plan of action for treatment with your doctor. Consider creating a plan during your next visit and ask your doctor for the over the counter treatment suggestions that are right for you.
Prevention of Viruses
Let’s talk tips and tricks to avoid getting a cold or flu in the first place.
- Wash Your Hands- Handwashing is the single best way to avoid getting sick. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends washing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
- Hand Sanitizer- When soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Wipe Down All Surfaces Frequently Touched in Your Home- Some respiratory illnesses can live on surfaces like doorknobs, counters, faucets etc for days. Use disinfectant wipes or paper towels dipped in bleach water solution to wipe down frequently touched surfaces often. Quickly discard the wipe. Avoid using sponges which can hold onto germs and push them around.
- Take care of yourself- Get adequate sleep and eat nutritious foods and move your body.
- Hydrate- Staying hydrated may boost your immune system helping you fend off viral intruders and keep you from becoming dehydrated if you do get sick.
- Avoid Close Contact With People- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently recommending “social distancing.” This means keeping about 6 feet between yourself and others. This doesn’t mean staying in the house, you can still be active. Consider visiting open-air and spacious locations like local parks, hiking trails, bike rides and beaches.
- Relax- I know this is easier said than done, but it’s important to intentionally manage our stress level to keep our immune systems healthy. Talking and giggling with people you love and trust can help. For a ton of anxiety management ideas take a look at a recent blog I wrote about tips for managing anxiety. If you feel overwhelmed, please call your doctor or mental health counselor.
Protect Others from Viruses
- If you feel unwell please avoid traveling.
- Stay home from work if you have symptoms.
- When you cough or sneeze, do so into your sleeve or into a tissue and dispose of the tissue right away. Then, wash your hands.
- If you are having symptoms, wear a mask if you must go out.
- Remember social distancing is to protect others as well as yourself. Avoid visiting with other people and protect your family members over 60 and with compromised immune systems by isolating them. Being vigilant about social distancing will also help avoid overwhelming our health care workers who are unselfishly caring for the sick.
Supplements for Your Immune System
You can’t supplement your way out of a cold or flu so eat right, be active, and take care of yourself. However, the following supplements may help support your immune system or ease some symptoms.
Vitamin C– I take Ester C & Flavenoids by Pure Encapsulations.
Lysine- This is an under-discussed antiviral that helps deter viruses from replicating. I take Pure Encapsulations brand Lysine.
Zinc– Zinc can help keep viruses from taking hold and multiplying. According to The Mayo Clinic, zinc lozenges that coat the throat may be more effective because they allow the product to come in contact with the virus.
Vinpocetine & Ginko Biloba– Both help to push blood through small capillaries, increasing blood flow and decreasing the symptom of brain fog. I like Pure Encapsulations Cognitive Factors which combines both ingredients. I swear I don’t work for them. Ha! I just really love their supplements.
Lemon BioFlavoniods– If you’re experiencing ear pressure with your symptoms this supplement is worth a try. It must be lemon and not citrus bioflavonoids found in many products. I use Lindberg brand lemon bioflavonoids.
Elderberry- Elderberry has been around a long time, but is recently gaining traction as a cold and flu remedy. New studies show it may help shorten the duration of symptoms by dampening inflammation. This one from Gaia Herbs looks nice. *Note– Elderberry may not be safe to use for treating the Coronavirus. You can find out more by reading the small studies mentioned in this informative article.
Take a look at the Migraine Strong Supplement Dispensary to receive a discount on your purchases.
Natural Treatments to help ease your symptoms of migraine and flu
- Sleep elevated– This is a trick my mom used to use to help keep congestion from settling in my chest. Put a couple of books under the head of your bed frame to provide an angle. Using extra pillows or a wedge or even purchasing a bed with an adjustable base is worth it for times like this.
- Nose irrigation– Saline nose spray or rinse can help irrigate the nose to wash away germs or relieve congestion and soothe inflamed sinuses.
- Gargling with salt water can help pull viral fluids from the throat and reduce inflammation in the area as well.
- Essential oils– Diffusing essential oils like peppermint and eucalyptus can help to open nasal passages and allow air through. Eucalyptus is an antimicrobial and peppermint is a natural decongestant so get your diffusing on! I’m in love with Pure Enrichment diffuser because it’s so easy to take apart and clean.
- Hot steamy shower– The steam will help to soothe and open up nasal passages and relieve congestion. These vapor tablets that you place in the shower drain are a lovely addition to a warm shower.
- Warm baths – The steam and humidity may help your sinuses and help you sleep. Adding magnesium chloride flakes or Epsom salts may help even more as magnesium can help minimize migraine.
- Hot Tea– My favorite teas to drink when I’m not feeling well are peppermint and ginger. Since many with migraine are sensitive to teas, look for teas with just those single ingredients like Biodynamic Ginger and Super Herb Peppermint from The Republic of Tea. Adding a teaspoon of honey helped to relieve my sore throat when I was recently sick. Honey works as a cough suppressant as well.
- Favorite Soup– Drinking warm broth will help loosen up nose and sinus congestion. It will help you stay hydrated as well. Cooking with fresh herbs and spices like garlic and ginger are an immune supporting plus. I love this soup recipe for Lemongrass Ginger Soup from The Dizzy Cook
- Cold Compress– To keep fever down and reduce sinus pressure, I love this face mask that I recently received from Huggaroo. It’s weighted and has a soft freezable gel insert. The outside is very soft with a silky back and adjustable strap. It can be thrown right into the washing machine for easy cleaning and it comes in unscented or lavender scent.
- Homeopathic- Our favorite natural medicine company Forces of Nature recently came out with brand new, over the counter sublingual immunotherapy drops. It’s packed with immune boosting ingredients like elderberry, garlic, ginger and holy basil. Enter code NATUREMS19 for 20% off your purchase.
Over the counter medications for migraine and flu
- Vapor rub– Apply vapor rub under your nose chest and bottom of your feet. There are so many available these days. Vicks Vapo Rub is an old favorite, but I also love J.R. Watkins Pain Relieving Liniment Spray on my chest, back of neck and even under my nose. This is great when rubbed onto your temples or neck during a migraine attack as well.
- Cough drops- I’ve spotted many head safe cough drops recently so I believe they’re becoming easier to get. Members in the Migraine Strong Facebook group often recommend original Ricola Natural Herb cough drops. I recently found Wedderspoon Manuka Honey Drops at my local grocery store and really like them.
- Pain relievers- Over the counter pain relievers like Naproxen, Ibuprofen and acetaminophen go a long way in easing aches and pains that come with a cold or the flu. Limit their use to 10 days a month to avoid medication overuse headache.
*Note– Ibuprofen may not be safe to use for treating the Coronavirus.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind as you’re choosing treatments for migraine and flu.
A few over the counter medications that we often reach for when we’re sick can be risky for those with migraine. At last year’s Migraine World Summit Doctor Andrew Charles discussed medications that can make migraine worse. In his talk he mentioned medications often used for nasal decongestion and runny nose can be troublesome for those with migraine. He suggested using caution when talking anything with a “D” on the end which means it includes a decongestant like Claritin D. Sally Platt, a nurse and wonderful contributing member of the Migraine Strong Facebook Group recommends trying Zyrtec at bedtime instead of a decongestant which can help relieve symptoms and also help you get some sleep.
Nasal steroids like Nasonex and Flonase can also be risky. In addition to potentially making migraine worse they can also weaken your immune system making it harder to fend off and recover from viruses. So avoiding steriod tapers during flu season and especially now with the coronavirus pandemic is recommended unless absolutely necessary. Over the counter steriods should be used short term (just a few days) and with caution. Talk with your doctor about your personal risk vs. benefit along with alternate medications without risk that would still provide benefit.
Avoid Decompensation – Vestibular Decompensation is the exact opposite of vestibular compensation. Those of us with vestibular migraine and the often co-morbid Meniere’s disease have worked hard to get to a place where our brains begin to compensate for daily dizziness. So while rest and relaxation is certainly important when you’re sick, try to still move your body. If you’re stuck in bed turn your head and move your eye gaze to look around the room. According to Dr. Kimberly Bell a lifetime of head movement is required to maintain compensation. Once you begin to feel stronger and try to spend some time moving your body outside. Both activities will increase oxygen in your cells helping your body recover.
Spring Is Coming
Most importantly take care of yourself and practice self care. Spend some time in the sunshine and limit news consumption which can raise anxieties.
In a few weeks when Florida temperatures are in the high 90’s and it feels like temperatures are over 100 degrees, I will not complain about the heat and humidity for a minute. I will instead feel grateful it’s protecting us from the flu! Bring on the warm weather because I’m ready for flu season to be over!
Note- The above recommendations do not replace medical advice and are based on my own personal experience with migraine and flu. Please consult your doctor before trying any new treatments.
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