Posted in First Aid/Staying Healthy, Product Recommendations, Tips and Tricks

Cough, Cough…Sneeze, Sneeze

Yep, it’s here in full force: cold and flu season. Sometimes I think if you walked someone into an elementary school with a blindfold on this time of year, they’d mistake it for a doctor’s office; The coughing, the sneezing, the red noses, the watery eyes, and of course, the whining. For those first-year teachers out there, I know you’re probably on your third or fourth sinus/ear infection, case of strep or bronchitis, etc. by now. Take it from me: it does get better. I can personally attest that I spent the entire spring semester of my first year with a malady of some kind. Your immune system does toughen up and next year, you’ll be golden. (And by that I mean you’ll only end up with 1 or 2 of the nasty plagues which cross the threshold of your classroom).

This is one of those posts that if you DON’T have any food allergies, might just make you face the dreaded cold and flu season with a little more spring in your step. And even those of you who just have one or two food allergies may just find some joy in your condition by the end of this post. And then there’s those of you like me. Well, we’re just going to band together, hold hands (after applying Purell of course), and pray for a swift and safe journey through the remainder of the season. And we’re off…

It was just a year ago this past week that I woke my then-roommate around midnight. My heart was racing at warp speed, I couldn’t catch my breath, and my pasty white skin would make Casper the Friendly Ghost look sun-kissed. After spending the night in the ER, it was determined that I had bronchitis and that the cough medicine I had taken had induced an autoimmune response. Granted a few weeks later when I learned about my casein-intolerance, I realized the cheese in my omelet that night was probably more the culprit…but you know what they say about hindsight. Or Monday morning quarterbacks (it is Super Bowl weekend after all). The reality is cold and flu season is frustrating for anyone with food sensitivities…and downright dangerous for those of us who have autoimmune conditions on top of that. Let’s start with the food sensitivities.

Picture a childhood sick day. One minute you’re hot, the next you’re cold; it hurts to move; the thought of lifting your head off the pillow, let alone getting upright to stumble to the bathroom is simply too much to bear. Then Mom walks in with a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup with some crackers, a glass of ginger ale or Gatorade, that little medicine cup of cough syrup, and your next dose of Tylenol. In a few hours (or maybe days for those particularly brutal bouts) you’re sitting up, curled up under the blanket, enjoying a rare night of total control over the family TV choices. (I mean there has to be some perk to being sick, right??) And when that’s not enough, it’s a quick trip to the doctor’s office, a stop at the pharmacy, and in no time at all you’re smiling and laughing with the best of them.

Well now, think about that day through the eyes of someone with a gluten allergy. Chicken noodle soup?? No way. Unless you were smart and made a safe batch for yourself weeks ago and added it to the “Just In Case of an Emergency” section of your freezer. Saltine crackers?? No again. Sure, there are gluten-free alternatives…but keep in mind, they’re not always light on the stomach so tread cautiously. Cough syrup? Tylenol?? Well, they’re safe…provided you did your research ahead of time and only have safe choices at your house. (WARNING: Advil is safe MINUS the Liqui-gels. I learned that one the hard way. Imagine having a horrible headache, taking medicine, and feeling exponentially worse! Such is the way in an allergy-filled world.) Gatorade and ginger ale… at least they’re still safe. And as far as that prescription, well you can’t even imagine the headache that’s going to  be. Literally and metaphorically.

So here are some tips for facing the rest of cold and flu season with JUST a gluten allergy:

  • Do your research now!: Researching gluten-free medications is enough of a headache when you’re feeling well…it’s unbearable when you’re already feeling sick. This link will take you to a great website of gluten-free medications. Of course, we’re lucky in the sense that many packages are now listing specifically whether something is gluten-free. 
  • Stock up!: You know sickness is inevitable and most medications have a long shelf life so buy now, thank yourself later. My personal  recommendations are as follows:
    • Vick’s Nature’s Fusion: There are many gluten-free cough syrups out there but this one is specifically marketed as such. Maybe I’m just a sucker for marketing ploys, but this stuff works AND it comes in daytime and nighttime formula. Do yourself a favor: buy the double pack with one of each. Nothing like finally soothing your cough but then falling asleep at your desk because you only chose to buy the nighttime formula.
    • Airborne: I first remember hearing about this product as a “parting gift” on Jeopardy as a kid…and I assumed that like most of those “gifts”, it was just something that failed to sell and so Jeopardy was passing them off on the poor runners-up who would probably much prefer to go home empty-handed. Then I went to college. One of my roommates there, we’ll call her the Tenacious Track Star, was the embodiment of a star athlete. And she still is…I’m telling you 2016 in Rio, watch out. This girl is a math whiz, has already defeated cancer, and maintains a level of devotion to her faith which still humbles me and inspires me in my own faith every time we talk. (I can just see the heart-wrenching montage on NBC already…complete with Bob Costas’ emotional grimace) She told me stories about the miraculous power of these tablets…and after a year of watching her down glass after glass of that fizzy elixir, she turned me into a believer. I still attest it’s the only reason I made it through that first year of teaching/perpetual illness. Their website claims all products are gluten-free; I can only personally attest to the fizzy, effervescent tablets. Go for lemon-lime or very-berry…and prepare to be amazed.
    • Gluten Free Cafe: GET EXCITED!!!  Just when I thought it was all over and my easy-to-cook-when-I-can-barely-stand-up chicken noodle soup days were over, I stumbled across this gem recently at Eddie’s Market (which is a more upscale grocery store in the Baltimore area). I bought a bunch and they’re on reserve in the back of my cabinet. If you can’t find them in a store near you, order a few cans online. I’m not normally this demanding…but I’m telling you, this will be a LIFESAVER when you’re sick.
    • Cough drops: For some reason, when I was first diagnosed, cough drops never crossed my mind as something to consider. Maybe because I was diagnosed in the summer so by the time I faced my first cold, it had been just long enough that I felt “normal” again and didn’t give it a second thought. Bad idea. There is so much confusion out there regarding cough drops. Just google it and you’ll see. My advice: don’t buy a package unless it explicitly states gluten-free. I personally stick to Walgreens generic brand which say certified gluten-free on the package. Hall’s does claim that all their cough drops are gluten-free…but I for one will never believe that because I will argue until the end of time that their Fruit Breezers are NOT. I ended up in the ER because of those once too…no 2nd chances from this girl. But again, that’s just me 🙂
    • Gatorade, tea, ginger ale, etc.: One thing that remains true is that hydration is key, especially when you’re sick. Stock up on whatever beverage you like best, and just keep drinking those germs away.
Now, those of you with gluten issues, I’m hoping you’re feeling a little better (or at least a little more informed) about the days and weeks ahead. Now for the rest of us…here comes the bad news. My favorite cough syrup that I raved about above? Contains High Fructose Corn Syrup. Gatorade? Corn syrup. And even the ones that don’t switched to glucose syrup…which can be derived from wheat. Ginger ale?? Yep, you guessed it: corn syrup. My Walgreens cough drops? Soybean oil.  The soup and the Airborne don’t have anything that explicitly alarm me but I’m still waiting to hear back from the manufacturers for a final verdict. In other words, this cold and flu season has me nervous. And sad. Who knew corn was such an omnipresent ingredient?? And forget about prescriptions! I thought gluten was hard, Corn is EVERYWHERE. I bet you didn’t know most capsules that house those wonderful antibiotics that bounce you back to health come from corn. And I bet you don’t really care…because I certainly wouldn’t either if my body didn’t. Once I even had to resort to a compounding pharmacy because my doctor couldn’t find the medication on the market in a form she was convinced would be safe. It was kind of fun to go back in time to an “It’s A Wonderful Life”-type pharmacy…but still not exactly how I wanted to spend an afternoon.
There was a brief glimmer of hope or those of us in the gluten-free world when Rep. Tim Ryan from Ohio put forth a bill to require all drugs for human use to require gluten listed as an ingredient…but as you can see here, that bill was recently changed from “referred to committee” status to “DIED”. So yes, in essence, one could say my hopes for getting medication without spending hours and hours on the phone are dead. I, however, prefer to think of them as cryogenically frozen. I’m counting on one of my politically-interested friends to bring this back to the forefront one day. Until then, I’ll be running up my phone minutes with frustrating phone calls to surprisingly uninformed drug representatives. Such is life…
So in closing, cold and flu season is brutal for all of us, but it might be just a little bit worse for those people with food sensitivities, and especially those with autoimmune conditions. Whoever you are, PLEASE do us all a favor and do what I tell my kids: wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and if you’re sick, STAY HOME. Don’t try to be a martyr and take the rest of us down with you in the process. For those with compromised immune systems, it really can be a matter of life or death. Or at the very least a trip to the hospital.
I wish you all health, happiness, lots of fluids and Vitamin C…and the swift arrival of spring. Come on, Punxsutawney Phil, I believe in you…
Photo courtesy of someecards.com

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