Self Care Tips for Preventing Colds and Flu

Author: Rebekah Michaels

As we enter the second part of the annual cold and flu season, prevention is very much on everyone’s mind.  Unless you have your sealed environment up and running, you will be exposed to the viruses that cause colds and flu.  Here are some self care tips for keeping the nasty critters from making themselves comfortable in your upper respiratory system and doing what they do best – proliferate.

In addition to Lady Macbeth-style hand washing or sanitizing, you will want to start regular nasal irrigation.  There are several ways of going about this, but my favorite is to use a Neti pot.  What is a Neti pot you ask?  A Neti pot is a small ceramic or plastic vessel that looks a lot like Aladdin’s lamp (sadly without genie).  You fill it with a solution of warm saline (1/4 teaspoon kosher/sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda) and introduce it into one nostril while leaning over the sink.  After you get over the water-up-the-nose sensation and figure out the optimum head angle, the solution runs through your nasal passages, washing out accumulated stuff and making it hard for viruses and other interlopers to set up base camp.  This is very low tech, safe, inexpensive (less then $20 at CVS or WholeFoods), and effective.  According to Dr. Melissa Pynnonenat the University of Michigan Sinus Center, “nasal irrigation can be considered a first-line treatment for common nasal and sinus symptoms.  It is often more effective then medication.”  Since rhinoviruses, seasonal flu, and H1N1 flu all enter through the upper respiratory tract, doing as much as you can for nasal and sinus hygiene makes sense in a campaign to reduce proliferation of these viruses.  Making nasal irrigation part of your daily routine, morning and evening, like brushing your teeth, will almost certainly reduce your chances of getting sick, and if you do succumb, should help to manage some of  the symptoms. You must boil the water you use in your Neti pot to eliminate any chance of pesky and possibly fatal bacteria in the water supply getting into your brain via the sinuses.

Following the same theme as nasal irrigation, another good technique for reducing viral colonization is to gargle with salt water.  Based on information about the presentation of H1N1 flu in China (slightly ahead of us as far as flu season goes) more than 80% of  H1N1 is presenting initially with sore throat and head symptoms.  Gargling with a saline solution is like nasal irrigation in that it helps to create a less hospitable environment for viruses at a point of entry, it also feels good when your throat feels raw.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) colds and flu are in the category of illnesses recognized as being caused by exogenous factors, traditionally described as wind heat or wind cold.  This year, based on what we are seeing, the prevailing  flavor is wind heat.  What this means is that most of what we see or catch this year is likely to present with some or all of the following symptoms: sneezing, itchy or sore throat, cough, runny nose with slightly yellowish mucus, occipital headache, stiffness and body aches, thirst, increased sweating, chills and fever with fever predominate.  At the prodromal stage (the first inkling that you are getting sick), in addition to increased vigilance with the Neti pot and the gargling, you may want to jump in with some Chinese herbal medicine.  Two patent medicines that you can have on hand in your medicine cabinet are Yu Ping Feng San (Jade Windscreen) and Yin Qiao San (Honeysuckle and Forsythia Formula).

Jade Windscreen is traditionally used for people who get sick easily or who have chronic allergies.  From the TCM point of view it helps to support and consolidate the Wei qi (protective energy) that prevents external pathogens from entering the system.  From the Western perspective, it contains adaptogenic herbs that help the body maintain optimum balance in times of stress.  Jade Windscreen is a gentle and safe formula that can be added to your daily vitamins to help support your immune  system and your energy.

Honeysuckle and Forsythia  Formula is a more specific response to the type of wind heat condition that we are seeing with this year’s colds and flu.  It contains herbs that have an affinity for the throat and some antiviral properties; it clears heat, detoxifies, and moistens.  To be effective, Honeysuckle and Forsythia Formula must be taken at the earliest hint of cold/flu and should be taken as long as these feelings persist, hopefully keeping you from a full-blown cold/flu.  If your condition does worsen you will want to address it with something stronger and should consult with your herbalist or Md as appropriate.  Both Jade Windscreen and Honeysuckle and Forsythia Formula are available as supplements on  As an herbalist I generally prefer to work with individualized herbal prescriptions, however, I do feel that these to patents are useful to have on hand so that you can respond immediately if the need arises.

As always the name of the game with colds and flu is prevention.  You can’t avoid exposure, so you want to have some good tools on hand to reduce proliferation and help keep you healthy.  The foundation stones of your immune response are your inherited constitution and your lifestyle.  Since the former isn’t something you can change at this point, the best thing that you can do for yourself and your immune system is to lead the proverbial healthy/balanced life.  Although I realize that this is easier said than done, it really is a false economy to neglect your day to day self care.  Like waiting till your old bald tires get you into an accident that totals your car and may injure you or someone else when a new set of tires in a timely fashion might have prevented the whole fiasco, leaving self care for tomorrow almost always  costs you more in pain, regrets, and time, than eating better, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep on a daily basis.  Besides, life is a lot more enjoyable if you make time to savor the details!


Dr. Tao Xie – Chinese Herbal Strategies for Prevention of H1N1 Lecture. 5/8/09, update 10/30/09.

UMHS Newsroom Press Release Archive – Spring Cleaning … for your nose. 4/7/08

Giovanni Maciocia – The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Churchill Livingstone 1989