There are more than 100,000 over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that you can buy without a prescription and they all have one thing in common: they are serious medicines that need to be taken with care. Over-The-Counter (OTC) cold medicines and cough syrups are made with harsh ingredients like Phenylpropanolamine (PPA), Dextromethorphan or Codeine, which can put some people at increased risk for significant –and sometimes serious– drug interactions with other over-the-counter medications –never mind the usual unpleasant side effects like drowsiness or brain fog. This is especially true for people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure, as well as the elderly and small children.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has documented the ineffectiveness and potential toxicities of OTC cough and cold medicines in children, and the FDA issued an advisory to remove Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) –a common constituent of OTC decongestants– from those products because of concern for increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke. In addition to side effects of the various ingredients, OTC cough and cold preparations also present potential hazards due to dosing errors. And there are environmental consequences that come with throwing those old expired meds (both prescription and OTC) down the drain or flushing them down the toilet.
Don’t Be Bamboozled!
Don’t be bamboozled into thinking that the only effective way of dealing with a common ailment is to take harsh meds. Next time you’re tempted to reach for the Nyquil, try an herbal, homeopathic, or essential oil-based natural remedy instead. These can be remarkably effective at addressing a wide range of symptoms associated with colds and flu, run-of-the-mill aches and pains, and even mild cases of anxiety or depression, without the added burden on your liver and kidneys that comes with over-use of OTC medications, or the risk of increased blood pressure from cough and cold medicines. And because they are so gentle they can often be combined for maximum results.
To treat upper respiratory or bronchial ailments, herbal teas, tinctures or cough syrups containing Elderberry, Nettles, Mullein, Licorice Root, Osha Root, and immune system boosters like Goldenseal and Echinacea are a great place to start.
For a sore throat try Slippery Elm lozenges or a drop of Organic Tea Tree essential oil in a spoonful of honey added to a cup of Sage or Elderberry tea. You can make your own sore throat gargle with a cup of Sage or Chamomile tea, a tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar, and a spoonful of honey with a drop of Geranium essential oil. This mixture is even more powerful if you infuse the honey with sage before adding the essential oil.
For fast relief of congestion whether due to colds and flu or seasonal allergies, reach for an essential oil remedy like our Breathe Ease Diffuser Blend that includes two types of Eucalyptus (Radiata and Polybractae), Cedarwood, Naiouli, and Spike Lavender –all essential oils that open nasal passages and improve breathing. Use it in a diffuser or simply add a couple of drops to a bowl of steaming hot water, place a towel over your head and breathe in the fragrant steam. Or put a drop or two onto a handkerchief and place by your pillow whenever you go to sleep (you can also add the oil directly to your pillow case if you prefer).
Another option is to add a couple of drops to a cup of Epsom Salt, stir or mix it by hand, and add it to a hot bath. This will help relieve congestion and soothe joint and muscle aches and pains commonly associated with colds and flu, while flushing out toxins that contribute to the exaggeration of these symptoms.
If you’re badly congested, place a drop of Peppermint essential oil onto a teaspoon of honey then place onto your tongue and hold it in your mouth, pushing it up against the roof of your mouth before swallowing –that should clear things up fast!
See our Guide to Essential Oil & Diffuser Blends for complete instructions on how you can use this product for best results.
Many of us grew up using Vicks Vapo Rub for relief from congestion due to colds and flu. Here is a recipe you can use to create your own petroleum-free version of an equally effective decongestant chest rub:
Natural Vapor Chest Balm Recipe (2 oz jar)
20 Grams of Olive Oil (or Safflower or Jojoba oil)
16 Grams of Unrefined or Gently Refined Shea Butter
12 Grams of Castor Oil
8 Grams of Beeswax (grated)
2 ML (approx 50 drops) of Breathe Ease Diffuser Blend or an equal combination of Eucalyptus, Cedarwood Atlas, and Lavender Essential Oils
Kitchen scale with Tare function
A Pyrex measuring cup (16 oz size recommended)
Stirrer (chopsticks work great for this)
– Place measuring cup on kitchen scale and turn it on. If the scale is not set to measure in grams then switch it to grams.
Pour and measure first ingredient then press Tare function to re-set scale to zero then repeat for each ingredient except essential oil blend which will be added to the mixture after it is heated.
– Use the cheese grater to grate the beeswax, which is usually purchased in 1LB blocks (when done, you can heat the grater over the stove and wipe it clean with a paper towel).
– Place the Pyrex cup in a small pot with a enough water to create a bath for the ingredients. Turn on the stove and set burner to low/medium heat. Place the thermometer inside the Pyrex cup (make sure it is clean) and stir occasionally.
– When the mixture has reached 160 F degrees (the melting point for beeswax), remove the Pyrex cup from the pot (use a pot holder or towel to avoid burning yourself) and place on a trivet. Watch the thermometer and let mixture cool to about 125 F degrees then add essential oil blend and stir for a minute or so. Let it cool (you can place it in your refrigerator to speed up the process but small quantities usually set and harden very quickly at room temperature).
– Seal the jar and keep in a cool, dark place when not in use. You can make a larger quantity by doubling the recipe but allow more time for the wax to melt and the mixture to cool down.
For runny noses and itchy, watery eyes, try a homeopathic remedy for allergies or hay fever –these can be very effective at drying out sinuses regardless of the actual cause of the symptoms.
Of course, the best remedy for the common cold or flu is to get as much rest as possible. Be sure to have plenty of Chamomile tea and some Lavender essential oil to help you get a good night’s rest. You can also try our Sleep Ease natural remedy diffuser blend.