Posted in First Aid/Staying Healthy, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Labeling Laws, Newly-Diagnosed, Product Recommendations, Tips and Tricks

It’s That Time of Year Again…

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.

cold prevention

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?
Cough syrup
  • 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.
Cough drops

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: It’s up to you

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.

Here’s to a healthy cold and flu season for all of us!

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…
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