Home remedies to beat any cold or flu

It’s been a brutal winter. On top of the bone-chilling, frigid weather, many people are on their second bout with a cold this season.

You might have gone to a doctor and received the usual, sensible advice: expect to have symptoms for 7-10 days; get lots of rest; drink plenty of water; and treat the symptoms. Antibiotics do not help in this case, and they can cause side effects.

Now you’re stuck at home, sniffling and feeling crummy. You have a runny or stuffy nose, maybe a sore throat, you’re sneezing and coughing. You undoubtedly have that resting and water-drinking down, so let’s talk about treating the symptoms.

With all this time on your hands you can try some cold and flu home remedies, time tested and grandma-recommended. Some may work for you, others not so much. Recently we tried a handful of these home remedies and asked Houston Methodist primary care physician Dr. Natalie Dryden to assess each one.

First we tried a hot toddy, a mixture of warm water, honey and whiskey or rum in small but roughly equal amounts, topped with a bit of lemon juice. “Warm beverages can soothe a sore throat and many patients find them useful,” Dryden said. “Adding alcohol in small amounts is not likely harmful but more than one alcoholic drink a day can suppress the immune system.”

Avoid alcohol when sick, as it suppresses your immune system, prolonging recovery Click To Tweet

Then we heated up some chicken soup. “It may help, as it can act as a mild anti-inflammatory and helps temporarily speed the movement of mucus,” Dryden said.

Next it was time for a hot, steamy shower. The doctor said, “The steam may help moisturize mucous membranes and temporarily ease congestion.”

Neti pot
While Neti pots can be effective for treating cold and flu symptoms, make sure you fill them with bottled or distilled water.

We also tried a nasal irrigation system, with a Neti pot and saline. Dryden said these are typically safe to use and effective in clearing congestion and stuffiness. “Some people find the saline to be a nasal irritant so it may not be for everyone,” she added. If you do use a system of this kind, remember to use distilled or boiled water to prevent infections.

Gargling with salt water helped our throat discomfort temporarily, and we also tried a warm compress for sinus congestion.

Dryden stressed that the success of any one of these strategies will depend on the person. “If it doesn’t help,” she added, “at least it won’t hurt.”

We paid a visit to the drugstore and took a look at some over-the-counter cold and flu remedies. The sheer number of products available made our head spin.

First question: antihistamine or decongestant? “Antihistamines can reduce runny nose and sneezing but used alone these tend to have more side effects, such as sleepiness and dry mouth, than benefits,” Dryden said.

An medication combining antihistamine with a decongestant (pseudoephedrine, found in the product Allegra D) can be effective in reducing congestion, runny nose and sneezing. This may not be for everyone; it can raise blood pressure, so those with hypertension should avoid this compound.

An antihistamine/decongestant combo can reduce cold symptoms, but may raise blood pressure Click To Tweet

Dryden said expectorants and cough suppressants both have shown medium benefit and medicated nasal sprays (containing cromolyn sodium or ipratropium bromide) also have shown some benefit and can be a substitute for pseudoephedrine.

She cited studies that showed that vitamin C/D/E supplements have no effect on colds. Zinc has been controversial; it showed a reduction of symptoms in some trials but had some serious side effects. So serious, in fact, that the FDA has issued warnings about zinc products and Dryden does not recommend their use.

There’s a lot of winter left, and much more cold and flu to come. If you haven’t been infected, congratulations. Keep washing your hands, eating healthy foods and laying off the alcohol. Get a flu shot, too.

Behind the scenes at RODEOHOUSTON

f you live in or near Houston, March is the month you pull out your western gear and become a cowboy or cowgirl to celebrate the return of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™. RodeoHouston® has it all – a BBQ cook-off, mutton bustin’ for the kiddos, bull riders, barrel racers and hit music stars.

While Houstonians enjoy the festivities for the entire month of March, the rodeo contestants come to town to compete for three days before moving on to the next rodeo. Sprains, strains, fractures, concussions – these are just a few of the injuries contestants risk when they enter the competition. To continue their sport, contestants need a team of health care professionals to back them up. That’s why Houston Methodist is proud to serve as the official health care provider for RodeoHouston.

In a typical night, the @RodeoHouston sports medicine team averages 60-70 treatments for the contestants. Click To Tweet

Houston Methodist coordinates the RodeoHouston sports medicine team with medical volunteers from across the city to ensure a multi-disciplinary team is available to care for contestants and their families. For the sports medicine team, the show starts long before you find your seat in NRG Stadium. A typical day in the RodeoHouston training room looks like this:

  • 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. – A physical therapist treats athletes and Rodeo staff (think Rodeo clowns and other support staff) for injuries sustained the night before or pre-existing injuries
  • 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. – Lunch break (eat while you can!)
  • 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. – Restock supplies (we go through a lot of tape and ice)
  • 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. – Prepare for the pre-event madness
  • 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. – The competitions usually start around 6 p.m., so between 4 and 6 p.m. is the madness.

In a typical night, we’ll average 60 to 70 treatments for the rodeo contestants. The cowboys and cowgirls come in to ice sore muscles, get therapy for aches and pains, tape their ankles, ask the primary care physician about a lingering health issue like a cold or get the surgeon’s opinion on a recurring shoulder problem. Our team also performs and reads x-rays on-site. 

At the same time, we’re treating the rodeo athletes’ family members. Many contestants travel with their spouses and children, so they need medical care while on the road, too. It may be the husband of a barrel racer with back pain or the son of a bull rider with an ear infection – the team can take care of them all. 

When the competition starts, the contestants know the same team of medical experts taking care of them in the training room will be standing by in case a ride doesn’t go their way. In the arena, two athletic trainers, two emergency medicine/trauma physicians, a team of paramedics and an orthopedic surgeon are ready to provide care if a rider is injured. In case of a concussion, we have neuropsychologist on call to provide an evaluation and treatment recommendations.

When the rodeo is over and the fans are waiting for the concert to begin, the training room is once again packed with athletes coming in to see the medical staff. While not all injuries that occur on the arena floor are serious, they can cause problems if left untreated before the next rodeo in the next town. 

The next day, the cycle repeats. Although the medical staff may change from day to day, we all have the same mission and provide the same level of care for each of the athletes and their family members.

After three days, the contestants move on to the next rodeo, and at the end of March, the medical staff will go back to their normal practices. So, if you’re heading to the rodeo, keep an eye out for the guys and gals in red vests. We’ll be there all night, every night, keeping the contestants at their best. Yeehaw!

How do you tell the flu from a cold or allergies?

You usually notice it as you pour your morning coffee. The guy in the next cubicle or office doesn’t sound so good. He’s coughing and sniffling as he types away, hoping you won’t notice. You ask him if he’s doing OK even though you know what he’s going to say.

“I’m great. It’s just allergies,” he says with a hoarse voice in between coughing fits.

Those “allergies” turn out to be the flu and before you know it you’re burning four sick days (or worse, vacation days) because Larry couldn’t self-diagnose and refused to go to the doctor.

Don’t be that guy.

It’s important to get your annual flu shot and to wash your hands regularly Click To Tweet

I asked primary care physician and general internist Dr. Natalie Dryden for advice on how to distinguish between a cold or allergies and the flu – for which you should go to the doctor immediately.

“Distinguishing between allergies, a cold and the flu is not always easy,” she said. “While two are infectious illnesses (colds and flu) caused by viruses and the other is an immune response to some environmental trigger, the body often has overlapping and similar responses, so symptoms can be similar as well.”

Here are five clinical features that may help you tell the difference:

  1. Fever: The flu generally causes high fever fairly consistently, while viral colds don’t often cause fever, and if they do, it’s generally a low-grade fever. Allergies should never cause fever.
  2. Body aches: They tend to be very pronounced with the flu, and while they can occur with a common cold, they are typically mild. Body aches are not a common feature of allergies.
  3. Cough: A flu cough tends to be more severe than with a cold. Like a fever and body aches, a cough is much less common with allergies.
  4. Runny nose: Can occur in all three.
  5. Sore throat: Common with colds and flu. Typically people with allergies report having an itchy throat and not actual pain.

Keeping an eye on the seasons can also help clue you in on what may be going on. While all three conditions can occur year round, flu season typically occurs fall through spring in the United States. If you don’t believe me, just check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national flu map. Dr. Dryden says to keep in mind that people who travel abroad might be exposed to the flu since flu seasons occur at different times throughout the world.

CDC flu map
The CDC keeps an up-to-date map that shows which states have the highest number of flu cases.

Common colds mostly occur in the winter and allergies occur often with changes in the season depending on what a person is allergic to. Some people (like me, sadly) have then year round. Allergy symptoms tend to last as long as a person is exposed to an allergen or trigger while viral infections will usually last between a few days to two weeks.

It’s important to get your annual flu shot and to wash your hands regularly; especially during flu season.

The next time you feel an itchy throat and dull body aches coming on with a fever, consider what might be ailing you before you go to work and get your co-workers sick. Visit a doctor immediately. Your office mates will appreciate it and you’ll be back on your feet faster.

7 questions for an ER nurse

hen minutes count, it’s best to be prepared. Sharon Tatum, a nurse in the Emergency Department, answers seven questions about knowing when to go to the emergency room and how to get the most out of your visit.  

Q: When should I come to the Emergency Department as opposed to an urgent care?

A: There are some conditions that require time-sensitive treatment to improve your recovery (example – stroke and heart attack). In situations that are serious or life-threatening, it is best to go to the ED.

In situations that are serious or life-threatening, it is best to go to the ED Click To Tweet

Q: What can I do to speed up the process?

A: When you arrive, have your identification ready as this allows us to link you with the correct medical record and start a record for your care. It is important to know your history, including allergies, past medical conditions and surgeries because the more we know, the quicker we intervene.

Q: What can I expect when I arrive?

A: You will be greeted by a nurse who will ask you if you are seeking medical attention. This nurse will determine your level of care based on your medical complaint.

Q: Why am I getting tests/treatment done before I see a doctor?

A: The Medical Director has designed protocols to help speed up the care when the ED is busy. Protocols are tests/treatment that can be completed before you are placed in the room. Examples include X-rays, CT scans, intravenous fluid and medication for nausea.

Q: What should I bring with me?

A: It is important to have a list of the medications that you are taking (including herbal supplements) with the name, dose, how often you take the medication and the last time you took the medication. 

Q: I got here first, why did they take someone before me?

A: Patients are brought back to a treatment room based on the medical complaint, test results, type of treatment needed and the type of room available. Please note that a patient may be taken back for X-rays and blood work then return back to the waiting area until a room becomes available.

Q: What is the busiest time? Least busy?

A: Historically the middle of the week tends to be busier and after 11 a.m. Waiting can be difficult, and wait times are dependent on how many patients are in the department and how many diagnostic tests are required for your care. Please know that we are working hard to expedite your care and apologize for any inconvenience it may cause. We are dedicated to keeping you informed of your plan of care.

What exactly is prediabetes?

According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans over the age of 20 has prediabetes and for those over the age of 65, it’s 1 in 2. Up to 30% of those with prediabetes will develop type II diabetes within 5 years unless they make lifestyle changes including weight loss and increased physical activity.

30% of those with prediabetes will develop type II diabetes within 5 years Click To Tweet

What does prediabetes mean?

Though not recognized as an official medical diagnosis, prediabetes is a term used when a person’s fasting blood glucose (fasting plasma glucose) and hemoglobin A1c are higher than normal but aren’t high enough for a formal diabetes diagnosis. Fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c are two tests doctors use to assess glucose control and diagnose diabetes. Normal fasting blood glucose is below 100, but diabetes isn’t typically diagnosed until fasting glucose reaches 126mg/dL or higher. Glucoses in between 100-125 are typically considered prediabetic results. For the hemoglobin A1c, normal results are 5.6% or below, while diabetes is typically diagnosed at 6.5% or higher, so someone with lab results in between 5.7-6.4% may be told he or she has prediabetes.

Fasting Blood Glucose levels

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A1C levelsScreen Shot 2015-01-27 at 1.21.35 PM

What are the symptoms of prediabetes?

Unfortunately, many people with diabetes or prediabetes don’t experience symptoms. Having your doctor run a fasting glucose, oral glucose tolerance test or a hemoglobin A1c is the best way to determine your current risk.

What are the risk factors?

Knowing the risk factors for developing diabetes is also helpful in preventing the progression of prediabetes to diabetes. Risk factors include age, gender, family history, physical activity level, body weight, pregnancy history and race.

Every decade over 40 increases your risk for diabetes and men are at higher risk than women. If your family history includes an immediate blood relative (parent or sibling), then your risk also goes up. If you’re getting less than 150 minutes of exercise per week and are overweight or obese, had gestational diabetes or birthed a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, those are additional risk factors. And while prediabetes rates don’t differ across racial groups, diabetes is most common in Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, then non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans and non-Hispanic whites respectively. Certain medications, like statins, and other health conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome can also increase your risk for diabetes, so be sure to talk to your doctor about any concerns. Click here to take the American Diabetes Association’s risk assessment test.

How can I lower my risk for diabetes?

Fortunately there are many things you can do to take control of your health. Make sure your doctor is running a hemoglobin A1c so you know your results. Start exercising, aiming for at least 150 minutes a week, and get to a healthy body weight where your BMI is under 25. You can calculate your BMI by going here. Even losing just 10% of your current body weight can make a big difference! Make sure to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and limit refined carbohydrates like white rice, white pasta, sodas, sweet tea, crackers and desserts. Cut back on portions and find an activity you enjoy that gets you up and moving around. Feeling short on time? Research has shown three 10-minute walks a day can be just as effective as one 30-minute walk, so split up the time if needed. If you smoke, consider joining a tobacco cessation program. Put yourself in control of your health and be encouraged to know that you have the ability to change from having prediabetes to experiencing normal, healthy blood glucose levels.


Chocolate-covered mindfulness

fter celebrating love by indulging in creamy, dreamy chocolate over Valentine’s Day, many will struggle to tame their sweet tooth.  Those few divine pieces of chocolate left in the red heart-shaped box are hard to resist and leave you wanting more long after they’re gone.   Here’s some great news: You can have your chocolate and eat it too! In fact, it’s entirely possible to have less chocolate while enjoying it even more.  This is where the art of mindfulness come in.  Mindful eating is about slowing down and fully engaging your senses for a transcendent experience that derives maximum pleasure from food.  Here are three tips to heighten your chocolate satisfaction while cultivating mindfulness:

You Deserve the Best

High-quality chocolate will reward you with the richest and most complex flavors to revel in.  A smooth, shiny surface, even coloring and a clean break with no crumbling when the chocolate is snapped are just a few qualities of premium chocolate.  As with wine, the geographical origin of the cocoa beans used to make the chocolate will influence the flavors.  Commercial chocolates are highly processed and usually made with subpar ingredients, including corn syrup and artificial flavors, making them a less healthful choice.  While premium chocolate may cost a little more, treating yourself to it is a splurge you deserve! 

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, powerful antioxidants that can help lower blood pressure, protect the… Click To Tweet

Delight In Dark Chocolate

Stirring the souls of chocolate lovers is cutting-edge research demonstrating the health benefits of chocolate.  Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, powerful antioxidants that can help lower blood pressure, protect the brain and increase blood circulation.  The darker the chocolate, the more flavonoids, therefore milk chocolate has minimal antioxidant activity and white chocolate has none.  Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao or cocoa solids for the most antioxidant power and note that high-quality dark chocolate will contain only one type of fat, cocoa butter.  Chocolate with a higher cacao content has less sugar, making it easier to be satisfied with less as added sugar in chocolate can mask other flavors and leave you craving more.

Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao or cocoa solids for the most antioxidant power! Click To Tweet

Slowly Savor

Quickly biting into chocolate and swallowing without fully experiencing its pleasures is a disservice to your senses. The essence of mindfulness is exploring details such as the aroma of the chocolate cupped in your hand and the smooth, sheen appearance.  Allow the chocolate to slowly melt on your tongue and swirl it around in your mouth to bathe all of your taste buds.  Note the texture as it may be silky, velvety or creamy.  The longer you allow the chocolate to melt, the more flavor notes will emerge.  Just like a fine wine, premium chocolate has different flavor stages including a beginning, middle and a finish.  Enjoy becoming a chocolate connoisseur and remember that no matter what you’re eating, the mindfulness skills you build will carry over! 

5 tips for returning to exercise after pregnancy

We all know how important exercise is to our health. I can attest to the endorphin rush from a good workout, and crave that post-run euphoria. Or at least I used to.

When I got pregnant two years ago my doctor advised me to keep my heart rate below 140, which meant a dramatic shift in my exercise regime. And since having my son I’ve hit the sidewalks sporadically, but not with any consistency. The net effect is that I can feel the difference in both my physical and mental well being, and it’s not a good difference.

The good news is that each day gives me a new opportunity to make the right choices. I’m registering to run a 10k at the end of February, and using the Couch to 5k app to track progress for the first eight weeks.

I recently spoke with Jace Duke, manager for Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Athletic Training Services, about returning to exercise after pregnancy. He offered these five tips.

Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program. Tell him or her why you want to exercise, and what activities you had in mind. Do you want to improve cardiovascular health? Lose weight? Gain strength and flexibility? Your doctor will help make sure you are in good enough shape to start exercising, and then you can design a program to meet those goals.


Progress gradually. Make sure your exercise plan increases the strain on your body incrementally. Also, take note of your environment. You might not look forward to your second workout if your first run is at noon on July 4th.

Wear the right shoes. You don’t need to spend $150 on high-tech shoes, but you do need to have shoes that are appropriate for your exercise, and they need to be replaced whenever you can see wear.

Your body is a machine that depends on fuel, and that includes hydration. Just don’t make the fatal calculation that a 30 minute jog is license to eat anything you want for the rest of the weekend – espeically if weight loss is one of your exercise goals!

Listen to your body. You will probably be sore the day after a workout. You might be even more sore the second day. This does not necessarily mean you are injured or sidelined. Jace has a helpful way to identify injury from soreness. “God gave us two of most of our body parts. If you are experiencing symmetrical pain, you are probably just SORE. If you are experiencing asymmetrical pain (your right calf feels strained but your left calf feels just fine) you might be injured.”

Even if you are injured, though, you never have to stop exercising entirely. You might need to modify your activity. You might be sidelined from running, but you can walk, or bike, or swim. The key is to always stay active.

The health benefits of laughter

Everyone loves to laugh. The aching pain of your abs working way harder than they usually do, the accidental leakage you just couldn’t hold in anymore, the tears, ah yes, the sweet, salty liquid of a good, hard laugh. If you don’t enjoy laughing, you should.

Some of my best memories of traveling when I was little were of my sister and I’s laughing fits. There were times I couldn’t even look at her without giggling furiously for hours; much to my parent’s discontent, I’d assume. 

Laughing doesn’t just remind us of the old times or connect us; it can also be beneficial to our overall health. Laughing is good for our bodies. It boosts your heart rate, stretches the muscles in your face and body, and makes you breathe faster (although sometimes you may feel like you’re gasping for air) which sends more oxygen to your muscles. It can also lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone), increase dopamine (the feel-good hormone), protect against heart attack and laughing –no joke– burns calories.

When we laugh, it’s not just physiological; it’s mental. Laughing acts as a mood-boosting, spirit-uplifting, stress reducer that can make any bad day better. It just makes us feel better. It can also combat fear and depression.


Let’s recap. Laughing makes you feel good, burns calories, lowers stress and lifts your spirit. As you can see, the benefits of laughter are numerous. Charlie Chapman once said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” So, now that you know why you should do it, the only thing left to do now is, well, laugh.

And as always, we’re here to help. Here are some of my favorite funny videos. Laugh, share and repeat, because laughter is better shared.

Laughing makes you feel good, burns calories, lowers stress and lifts your spirit Click To Tweet

Want a workout and laugh? Are you in the mood for something scary? Do you like awkward family photos? Are you a fan of dogs and babies? Are you a fan of ventriloquists?

Need a laugh? Check out our Medical Humor Pinterest board:

Follow Houston Methodist’s board Medical Humor on Pinterest.

BYOL: Bring your own ligaments

t’s funny how things change as you age. For instance, we all reach a point where we don’t have to have the newest or best of everything – we just need something that works. You might feel that way about your car or your phone, but what about your ACL and PCL?

A new total knee replacement features a shape that protects that island of bone & saves the ligaments Click To Tweet

The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, and PCL, or posterior cruciate ligament, are located in your knee and are essential to natural knee movement and function. That’s why you hear about so many athletes getting a torn ACL repaired – you need those ligaments to function properly.

“These ligaments provide stability for the joint and increase the patient’s ability to perform complex movements, such as dancing, gardening or golfing,” explained Dr. Bill Bryan, a Houston Methodist orthopedic surgeon.

When you are old enough for a knee replacement, your ACL and PCL are certainly a bit worn out, but they still work, which is good enough for you. So why do surgeons remove the ACL and PCL when you have a knee replacement? Until now, they’ve not had an option.

A traditional total knee replacement requires removing the “island” of bone to which the ACL and PCL are attached. A new total knee replacement implant features a shape that protects that island of bone and saves the ligaments.

Dr. Bryan was one of 10 surgeons from across the country and the only surgeon in Houston to be selected as an early evaluator of the XP knee, made by Biomet, which features the new ligament-saving design.

“Most of my knee replacements patients are completely happy with their new knee, but some complain that they are not able to physically do everything they previously could,” Dr. Bryan said. “By saving the ligaments, this knee implant provides an improved range of motion and increases joint stability and natural movement for knee replacement patients,” Dr. Bryan said.

Dr. Bryan believes that another benefit of saving the ACL and PCL for knee replacement patients is that the ligaments will take some of the strain off the metal and plastic components of the knee replacement and help it to last longer. Most artificial knees last approximately 10 years before needing to be replaced.

“For many years, orthopedic surgeons have recognized the need for total knee replacements that save the ligaments,” Dr. Bryan said. “Now that technology and design have caught up with us, patients can now get a total knee replacement that works and feels a lot like a normal knee.”

Dr. Gene Alford: A Story of Resilience

id you know 60 to 70 percent of surgeons play music in the operating roomDr. Gene Alford, better known as Dr. Gene, is no different. Tucked away in the neurosensory building at Houston Methodist Hospital, the songs of Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and Pharrel Williams can be heard from Dr. Gene’s operating room. 

His love for playing music in the operating room came from a surgeon he was training under during his residency in Philadelphia. He also learned each type of surgery has its own genre.

“If I am doing a procedure to remove a form of cancer, I play rock and roll as it needs to be more aggressive. Whereas if I am performing a more delicate procedure I will play a classical number.”

Music really helps to set the tone for the surgery. An operating room can be stressful, but by playing music, he and his team are able to relax and focus on the patient.

At the end of every surgery, he always turns on his “closing music” which consists of dance, disco or funk music. The stress of surgery is over and the entire team can relax and enjoy the success.

What does a surgeon’s playlist look like? Everything from @BrunoMars to #TheEagles. Click To Tweet

So, what does a surgeon’s playlist look like? I asked, and he gave me his top 10 artists:

“Every surgery is different,” said Dr. Gene. “I pause, collect my thoughts and focus on the patient. Once my mind is right, the banter begins and music blasts through the speakers.”