Cold Caution – Before your next winter adventure

Staying active outdoors during the winter can be great for your health. But it’s important to be vigilant when planning extended outdoor excursions; overexposure to cold and wind poses the risk of frostbite. This potentially serious condition often affects toes, feet, fingers, hands, nose, and ears. The National Institutes of Health notes symptoms start with a pins and needles sensation followed by numbness — and the skin will be hard, pale, and cold.

Before your next winter adventure, remember to…

  • Wear loose, layered clothes: Put on 2 pairs of socks, wind– and water–resistant clothes, and mittens instead of gloves.
  • Cover all areas of the skin: Wear a hat and scarf. Check for tears or rips in clothing that may expose small areas of skin.

Avoid smoking and alcohol: They decrease blood circulation.

  • Seek immediate medical attention for frostbite — it could raise the risk of hypothermia. If a doctor is unavailable, follow advice from the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons:
  • Get to a warm room
  • Remove any wet clothing

Warm the affected areas in water (not hot) for 30–45 minutes — unless they might again be exposed to the cold; do not use dry heat (for example, a heating pad, sunlamp, or fire) or the skin could burn

Cover blisters with a sterile cloth

Rest the affected areas; do not rub.

Pill Principles

Are your cabinets overflowing with medicine bottles? Join the club — the average American fills more than 12 prescriptions annually. Add in vitamins/supplements, and it’s easy to get lost in a maze of pills. Avoid a wrong turn with these precautions:

  • Make sure your doctor and pharmacist know exactly which prescription and nonprescription items you take
  • Follow your doctor’s orders — be sure you clearly understand dosing instructions and why you’re taking the medication
  • Avoid storing pills in extreme heat or cold, as this lessens their effectiveness
  • Keep medication out of the reach of children (and pets); call poison control if anyone swallows something they shouldn’t have
  • Human error is always possible, so it’s smart to double check that you receive the correct medicine; also, pills occasionally change shape or size — check with your pharmacist if you notice a difference
  • Read the prescription enclosure for potential side effects and drug interaction warnings
  • Set a reliable schedule so you won’t forget to take your medication — a daily pill organizer can help.

Managing Motion Sickness

Ever feel a little queasy when riding in a car? Or wish the boat would stop rocking? You might be experiencing motion sickness, which happens when your brain gets the wrong information about the environment. In most instances, the inner ear detects you’re moving, but the eyes don’t perceive this. Although motion sickness can put a damper on your travel plans, there are ways to prevent it:

  • Focus on the far horizon: Concentrating on the vista ahead forces your eyes to recognize the vehicle is in motion, which sends your brain the correct message.
  • Get some fresh air: Take time to breathe it in. If you’re in a car, pull over, get out, and stretch; on a boat, head for the deck; in a plane, open the overhead vent.
  • Plan light meals: Avoid heavy or greasy meals before you head out. Snack frequently on crackers and fruit, and skip the alcohol — opt for water instead.
  • Watch for early symptoms: Learn to recognize signs such as nausea, fatigue, and sweating. Take measures to prevent them by slowing down the vehicle, opening the window, turning the air vents toward you, or going for a walk.
  • Take over–the–counter medication: Antihistamines and skin patch treatments can alleviate the onset of motion sickness. If they don’t help, check with your doctor for other options.

Cough Suppression

Winter colds and flu can kick up coughs — the body’s natural response to expelling mucus and other nasties. And while most of your hacking will subside within a couple weeks, chronic symptoms can persist longer… and may be a sign of a lingering infection or other medical condition like asthma, allergies, acid reflux, and even lung cancer. How do you know if that throat–clearing is a worrisome sign or something benign?

Seek medical attention if:

The cough lasts longer than 3–8 weeks, depending on severity

Your cough is accompanied by a fever higher than 100° for 3 days or longer

You cough up a bloody substance

Your mucus is discolored

Your cough leaves you wheezing or short of breath.

In the meantime, temper that tickle with these tips:

Try honey and lemon juice before you go to bed to ease the dry spasm (one study of children found that buckwheat honey was just as effective as dedextromethorphan, one of the active ingredients in most over-the-counter cough medicines)

Prop up your pillows to reduce irritation

Drink plenty of water to help thin out mucus in a productive cough

Sit in a bathroom with hot water running to open up airways

Suck on a peppermint candy or lozenge to moisten the throat

Kids and Colds

The average American child gets four to six colds a year. Now a push is on to offer some relief. Researchers found that one type of zinc lozenge helped adults recover quicker from colds.

The blowing…
The coughing…for kids with colds…it adds up to pure misery.

Tamara Goetz, 16-year-old:
“The sneezing and the coughing…it hurts a lot.”

Robbin Collins, mother:
“One gets it. They give it to the other and it just doesn’t stop.”

Pharmacy shelves are lined with products promising relief. One study showed zinc lozenges cut the length of colds almost in half among adults. Doctors aren’t sure how zinc works. One theory is zinc settles in the virus, which usually binds to bumps of the mucous membranes.

Michael Macknin, pediatrician, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH:
“So the viruses basically can’t stick to the lining of the respiratory track and can’t infect you.”

Working with two local school districts, Cleveland Clinic researchers are studying whether zinc also works in kids. Without knowing which is which, half the student participants receive placebo lozenges. The other half get zinc. Researchers monitor and compare how long the symptoms last in both groups. Nathan Collins’ mom went ahead and gave him the real thing when a cold struck over the weekend.

Nathan Collins, 10-year-old:
“It didn’t take very long for it to go away. I mean, it went away really fast.”

But doctors say more studies are needed before zinc is hailed as a true superhero to conquer the common cold.

Some words of caution…doctors warn that zinc lozenges have not been shown to prevent a cold. So don’t load up on mega-doses in hopes of avoiding one. And because of the danger of choking, lozenges should never be given to pre-schoolers.

Sniff out a Cold

There’s no vaccine to prevent it and no antibiotic to kill it. When a cold virus attacks, there is nothing we can do but ride it out. Or is there? Now there may be a way to sniff out that cold in record time.

You can’t see them, but they’re there. Two hundred different cold viruses lurking in the air — hiding out on everything you touch. Their target: your nose — a launching pad for a full-body attack. It’s there in the nose that a newly approved zinc nasal gel, called Zicam®, wages its counter-attack.

Michael Hirt, M.D., an internal medicine specialist, says, “Have you heard of zinc lozenges? Those work in the throat. But most colds start in the nose, and by delivering zinc to the nose we’re able to affect the infection much more quickly and dramatically.”

Dr. Hirt’s research shows zinc nasal gel can reduce the duration of a cold by 76 percent and relieve symptoms almost overnight. He explains, “It can take a cold from nine days to only two days, and dramatically reduce symptoms if used within the first 12 hours.”

Ruth Shidlovsky says, “I thought, ‘Let’s give it a try and we’ll see.’ Then I tried it again, and it truly helps.”

Ruth doesn’t leave home without it. For her, the gel works when she uses it at the first sign of a cold. She says, “As soon as I feel lousy, whether it’s a sore throat, a cold, sneezing, or my body aches, I start it.”

Dr. Hirt says it’s not a cure for the common cold, but says it is the next best thing.

Zinc nasal gel is available over-the-counter at a cost of $7 to $12. Dr. Hirt says it carries no serious side effects and is safe for anyone over the age of 3. Before taking it, pregnant women should first consult their doctor.