That’s right: cold and flu season is here. (I know,more exciting seasons have arrived too but we’re going to be practical for a minute here.) While it is important for everyone to prepare for cold and flu season, the need for those of us with food allergies/intolerances is just a little bit greater. First of all, for those of us with autoimmune conditions like Celiac, any battle with illness can become more complicated than for the general population. Second, you really want to drag yourself to a store when you’re feeling sick to get the medications you need? Finally, and perhaps most important, do you really want to be sitting at a computer trying to research gluten-free/dye-free/whatever-your-restriction-is-free options when the fog of sickness has already descended, and then driving all over the place trying to hunt down the ones deemed to be safe?
Let me answer those questions for you: no, you don’t. So the time is now: stock up your medicine cabinet with all the cold and flu season essentials now while you are clear-headed enough to look into the ingredients…and not so patiently wait for those company reps to get back to you with an answer about their product.
Now before I dive into my list of suggestions, please remember a few things. First, I am not a doctor, nurse, or any kind of medical professional. My suggestions/recommendations are what have worked for me but you should talk to your own doctor about the best options for you. Second, always, always, always read the labels before you buy or use any product- even one recommended to you. Formulas can change every year and though I’ve done my best to research for this year, you just never know when a new product will hit the shelves so even if you know someone else takes it, always verify for your specific ingredient restrictions. Third, these are just the products that work for me. You may find others that are better suited for you, but hopefully this list at least gets you thinking about the items you should have on hand in your medicine cabinet as we head into the heart of cold/flu season.
If you’re anything like me, as soon as you feel a slight tickle in your throat, you’re doing everything you can to prevent it from turning into a full-fledged cold. Here are my go-to “first line of defense”items:
- Umcka Cold Care: This was recommended to me by a doctor years ago and it has changed my life (especially when I was teaching elementary school where the little ones are always sneezing!) This one is my personal go-to but any from the line I’ve tried have been great. Maybe it’s all in my head but I swear it has made a difference in preventing full-blown colds, or at least minimizing the severity. It can be hard to find in stores. I’ve usually found it in my local health food store, but some varieties are available on Amazon and even in Walgreens this year. I verified with the company this week that all Umcka products are still gluten-free. (If you have dairy allergies, make sure to check the label and check with your doctor as some do contain lactose.)
- Zinc Lozenges: Along with Umcka, it can’t hurt to start sucking on those zinc lozenges as soon as you feel that first throat tickle. Cold-EEZE tend to be the most common choice and they do currently label them as gluten-free. You will likely find generic brands that are labeled gluten-free as well. A personal favorite of mine (when I can find them!) are Nature’s Way Sambucus Elderberry Zinc Lozenge. They taste great and that added boost of elderberry can’t hurt, right?
- Elderberry gummies: Now I’ll admit, I was skeptical of the elderberry craze (and I am still just a little bit.) However, there was a free sample of some elderberry gummies in a blogger bag I received a few years ago and I figured what do I have to lose? I have no concrete proof that they work but I also have no evidence to suggest that they don’t- and they taste delicious- so why not give it a whirl?
- Robitussin Honey: I personally love this product because it is tested to ensure it is gluten-free and it seems to actually work (for me!). Also, every part of the package is recyclable which to me is a fun bonus. It is a little pricier than some other varieties, but to me it’s worth it. And there can be sales if you keep an eye out in stores and bring this $1 off coupon.
- Chestal Honey: This was my go-to cough syrup until Robitussin Honey arrived on the scene. My doctor recommended it to me and I never had a problem with it, but the parent company (Boiron) has a policy of not making gluten-free claims about their products so if that makes you nervous, go with Robitussin.
There are SO many choices when it comes to cough drops. Again, my best advice is to read labels and go with one that is confirmed by the manufacturer. Also be wary of just googling things because I found results from as long ago as 2012 and labeling laws have changed A LOT since then. Here are some potentially surprising/useful things I’ve learned while researching cough drops:
- Ricola is no longer considered gluten-free! I have to applaud Ricola on their transparency here. They honestly state on their FAQ page that their products cannot be considered gluten-free under current FDA regulations…but then they go on to say that their products do contain less than 20 ppm. So essentially it’s up to you and your doctor what’s right for you, but I no longer consider them an option for myself.
- Hall’s is complicated. The ingredient list seems safe but again the company won’t make a particular claim that the products are gluten-free. Read here for the best description I’ve found and then decide for yourself.
- Fisherman’s Friend is your friend. This brand is my personal recommendation. They are gluten-free, vegan (that means dairy-free for me), and contain a LOT less ingredients than most of the other brands I’ve seen. Again, they are a little pricier and can be a little strong in flavor initially but it’s worth it to me to know I’m taking something safe for me.
Theraflu is another one which is complicated. Honestly I have used their hot liquid powder for years now and have never had a reaction. However, when I called to check again this year I received the seemingly-now-standard response from the representative: they don’t use any gluten-containing ingredients but they do not test the final products so they can’t guarantee anything since some ingredients come from third-party vendors. (AKA we have to cover ourselves so we can’t say it’s gluten-free, but we also don’t want to incur the expense of testing to make sure…so good luck.) Also, it took me FOREVER to get someone to respond to me so if you’re planning to call and talk to them about your specific needs, I’d drop everything and start the process right now.
Obviously this one should always be on-hand, but it is getting more complicated too. Name-brand Advil was always my go-to for pain relief and fever but now they issued a similar statement to Theraflu saying they can’t guarantee it’s gluten-free. Also, some of the liqui-gel products DO contain a wheat derivative so I’m sure cross-contamination is also a concern. Of course, Tylenol (who used to label products gluten-free) also released a similar statement last year to cover themselves after the new labeling laws went into effect.
The good news is there are some generic brands that are still labeled gluten-free. I personally have generic versions from CVS and from Target. I do recommend you check the label, call the manufacturer, and also check with your doctor too to see what is best for you.
tea with honey
Finally, the classic for fighting a cold: lots of tea with honey. Just please, please, please make sure your tea is gluten-free. (That’s right, you have to worry about tea too!) I’ll admit I came close to purchasing a box of sugar cookie sleigh ride tea once before I noticed the glaring CONTAINS GLUTEN on the side of the box. (Thanks, Celestial Seasonings for being on top of the labeling!!) I know the name itself should have stopped me in my tracks, but in my mind it was tea. I never thought about barley as an ingredient. Here is a great (recent) article about your various tea options. Again, especially when you have a cold and might reach for decaf/herbal tea options, make sure to do your homework first. The last thing you need is a gluten reaction when you are already sick!
An ounce of prevention
My final word here is of course to do what you can to prevent illness this cold/flu season. Wash your hands thoroughly (and make sure it’s a safe soap!) and often. Try to get enough sleep and avoid situations where you may encounter a lot of germs in an enclosed space when you can. Finally, I am not here to wade into the vaccine debate, especially because I know it can be extremely complicated when you have an autoimmune condition. All I am saying is I strongly recommend that you see your doctor and talk about what is best for you. I did have a doctor who advised against the flu shot for me for a few years when around when I was sick/in the process of finding a diagnosis so my immune system was haywire already, because he was concerned the risks for me outweighed the benefits (again where the importance of herd immunity comes in). I personally have had a flu shot for a few years now because I have a toddler and I haven’t had any negative reaction. Also, some doctors strongly urge Celiac patients to get a Pneumonia shot each year- which is not standard protocol for an average 20 or 30-something, but I’ve had several- so I would just suggest talking to a doctor that you trust…and of course ultimately do what you think is best for you.