February 16, 2010

Jo's Handy Cures For Annoying Things: The Valentine's Weekend Edition

Who here is recovering from a little more Valentine's Day chocolate and champagne than they probably should've had? Show of hands?

I'm the only one raising my hand, aren't I?

Plus, my knee is still wonky.

And I think I'm coming down with a cold.

Here, then, are my handy remedies for everyday, annoying things. Please keep in mind that I am the absolute worst kind of medical professional from whom to take advice; season everything here with a four-foot by four-foot grain of salt.

1. The Chemical-Weapon Class Hangover

When the thought of brushing your teeth makes you tetchy and you can't eat even mashed potatoes, how on earth can you work out (or even be a functioning member of society)? The quickest cure for a hangover is, of course, not to drink that second bottle of champagne in the first place. If you lost track of your Cliquot consumption, though, try this:

Water. Hydration is a must. Alcohol dehydrates your brain, which is what leads to that horrible headache and nausea.

Gatorade. I'm normally not a fan, but original-flavor Gatorade really *does* have enough glucose to feed your brainbox and make you feel better. Plus, the sugar content can actually settle your stomach. If Gatorade is too much, try Sprite.

Exercise. No joke. A brisk walk will help your metabolism rev back up, and you might even find your liver a few blocks away in the process.

Sleep. 'Nuff said.

2. The Turned Ankle, Wonky Knee, or Strained Lower Back

If your injury is severe enough to require more than over-the-counter painkillers, then skip this part. If you have a mildly achy body part, though, read on:

Anti-inflammatories. I don't care if it's turmeric or Aleve you're taking, make sure you're dealing that joint or muscle a fair hand of anti-inflammatories. Not only will those help with the current inflammation and pain, they'll help keep things from spiraling into a nasty cycle that can make things work. One of the most helpful anti-inflammatories, that won't wreck that liver you just forced back into your abdomen over its weak protests, is

ICE. Ice is huge in the treatment and prevention of injuries. In the first 24 hours after a sprain, strain, or pull, it can help slow swelling, reduce the amount of collateral damage, and make you feel a whole lot better. Just be sure you don't apply ice for more than 20 minutes at a time, and be sure you don't freeze your skin.

Heat. After the first day or so, heat can be very soothing and healing. Applications of moderately warm water, with or without epsom salts (to reduce swelling) feel great, increase blood flow, and help lymphatic drainage. And, of course, there's

Rest. Seriously--if it hurts, get and stay the heck off of it. Gentle stretching of sore muscles can be good, but don't overdo! There's nothing worse than hurting yourself more when you're trying to feel better.

3. The Heartbreak of the Head Cold

I do not like combination medicines like TheraFlu or Nyquil: they contain acetaminophen, which can be dangerous in large quantities, and they often have things you don't necessarily need in them.

Decongestants. These help with stuffy-headedness. You can use topical decongestants, like a nasal spray (for no longer than three days), or a systemic one, like Sudafed (but watch it if you have hypertension or prostate problems!). Decongestants will generally make you more hyper than a squirrel on crack, which is why many people take them with

Antihistamines. The old sort, like Benadryl, will make you sleepy (a good thing sometimes; we actually use it at the hospital rather than things like Ambien). The newer sort, the loratadines and cetirazines, won't make you sleepy and can actually work better than Benadryl. Read the label, of course, and follow the directions, but if your primary problem is a runny nose, antihistamines are what you want.

Cough Remedies. Sadly, lab tests have shown that the active ingredient for cough suppression in over-the-counter meds isn't any more effective than a placebo. Now, I personally have had good luck with something called Delsym, but I don't know if that's placebo effect or not. The general rule of thumb is that if the cough is keeping you up at night, you should see your friendly medical professional for a prescription. You might be goofy the next day, but you'll sleep. Oh, you'll sleep.

And finally, Gentle Exercise. Again, gentle exercise can be very useful. Don't try to work out at your usual level, but be mildly active. A stroll on a pleasant day will help you move some snot around, improve your mood, and make you sleep better.

4. The Honest-To-God Flu

For heaven's sake, don't plan on doing anything for two weeks except sleeping, coughing a lot, and taking lots of painkillers. If you catch it early enough--and can stay vertical in the doctor's office long enough--antivirals can do a lot of good, reducing the duration of the flu by about 48 hours. Two days' shorter stay in Hell is a good deal.

If you're unlucky enough to catch the flu, especially the Pig Plague (which I have had and which was indescribably awful), stay home. Stay in bed. Eat ramen. Have somebody rub your feet. Don't freaking move until at least day 3, at which point you will definitely need a shower.

And don't work out. Physical fitness isn't worth the rest of us having to haul your exhausted carcass off the treadmill.


  1. Thanks.. (Achoo!) Now I am going back to bed. You can't do a stroll if you have a cough. (Hack!) It just makes it worse. I am living proof. (Achoo!)


  2. I don't know which is worse, having a cough that makes you feel like you are going to expel a lung or the drugged out feeling I get from cough medicine. Can't they give you something that will just knock you out for about 10 days until it's all over?

  3. My latest remedy for even a (bad)cold is to take to my bed for 24 hours and just sleep. It seems to really make recovery time more like 4 days instead of 10. Also, a saline spray rather than a decongestant helps keep those passages clear! last but not least...ginger ale works great for a hangover too. Ugh, not a great way to start the day thinking about this! Happy Mardi Gras!

  4. I've been blessed with a cold already this year. Rest and bundling up when I had to go outside I think was my savior this time around.
    What, no hair of the dog as a remidy for a hangover? ;) For the last few years, I've drank a glass of water before bed (or between drinks of alcohol)and haven't had a bad hangover since. Works wonders.

  5. AH - spent love day doing house renos. There was pie though. :)
    I get the wonky knee and sniffles thing. A coworker sneezed all over my stuff last week and I think I'm succumbing to it. Can't get sick yet - I'm not done my renos.

  6. Jo, I think you are exactly our type of medical professional.

    I joked to my hubby yesterday that I ought to take a sick day for my mental health. Sure enough I woke up this morning with a sore throat. Dagblastit! That's not what I meant!

  7. Excellent tips Jo! And I forgot it was Mardi Gras today, so that's awesome timing for the hangover tips.

    Weirdly enough (knock on wood) I don't tend to get sick, so the self-inflicted hangover is about the worst I have to suffer through, and fortunately, as I get older, I'm less willing to do that anymore. But I have to second the WATER WATER WATER and then more WATER idea--especially before you go to bed. It's worth getting up all night to pee.

    And the wonky knee/back etc suggestions are all excellent as well! Afraid I speak from experience.

  8. I second your wonky knee recommendation. I've had one for too long, and the only thing I wish I did earlier was REST. Take some time off. You'll be happier down the road when you can walk than if you had made it to the gym those extra times.

  9. I am not a medical professional, but I am a mom and I second the Delsym for a cough. It doesn't make me feel all druggy and it takes the cough downa couple of levels so I can actually get some (much needed) sleep.
    And, for the record, I might know a thing or two about a bad bourbon hangover. (hey, I live in KY). The best thing I've found so far is Gatorade and a banana. And lots and lots of water.
    Great post and very timely as I set here with my stuffy head.

  10. "move the snot around" -- I will be quoting you for a long time to come.

    Excellent suggestions, all.

  11. Got a cold right now. Not very happy. Not gonna exercise either. Maybe tomorrow.

    Did not know that hospitals go to Benadryl for sleep medication. I may have to make my husband go buy me some.


  12. I am one of the small percentage of people who aren't made drowsy by Benadryl. Or any other antihistamine I've taken in the past fifty years. If only!

    My father's weirdly out of character advice to me: "If you've been drinking, brush your teeth before you go to bed and you won't have a hangover." Since I've never had a hangover, it may work.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  13. I can't agree more with the handy cures you gave us. My mom has been feeding me bits and pieces of the information you gave us since I was young. It's great that more people know about these simple cures.


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