May

24

 I've had a terrible head cold for the past week, and it's made me think about what a weak approach the world takes to the common cold. Doing a little wiki search you'll find that people are out of commission for something like 2 weeks per year. Tens of millions get poured into some cancer drugs that are viewed as successes because they increase life expectancies from one month to three months. But when you go to the pharmacy for your cold, 80% of what you see is junk, and what's not junk is just barely. (I'm making up a lot of the actual numbers in this post, but you get the idea.)

Here's a rundown on some of the pharmacy items:

Long-last 12-hour nasal decongestants, inhaled (like Afrin): This stuff works for awhile and provides actual relief, but 1) it doesn't work for 12 hours–more like three, and 2) they tell you you can only use it twice per day and up to a maximum of three days. OK, well I'll just have to make sure my cold only lasts three days! If you consider how people treat the warnings about drugs like crystal meth, I would imagine that a lot of people use Afrin for longer than three days and more than twice per day and don't get badly hurt. The CVS pharmacist kind of hinted that that was the case. But on the other hand, I don't want to get a permanent stopped-up nose and Afrin addiction.

Short-last nasal decongestants, inhaled (like Neo-Synephrine): These are supposed to work for 4 hours, but of course they don't. There are scattered hints that they don't pose much dependency risk, but the label says otherwise–use no more than once every 4 hours and not for more than 3 days.

Oral pill nasal decongestants — phenylepedrine — These don't do diddly. I discovered this on my own, but later the pharmacist told me that everybody pretty much knew it.

Oral pill nasal decongestant — pseudo-ephedrine — For these, you have to go to the pharmacist and show your drivers license so that they can check that you're not making crystal meth. Usually I don't want to go to that kind of trouble, but word on the street is that phenylephrine, which is the new pseudo-pseudo-ephedrine, like the one that Mother gave Alice, doesn't do anything at all–you have to get the REAL pseudo-ephedrine. Anyway, I got some 12-hour slow-release capsules of pseudo-ephedrine. They seemed to have some slightly helpful effect, but not nearly enough to give comfort.

"Nite-time" stuff — There are literally dozens of varieties of this at CVS including multiple store-brand versions of the same thing. They're all equal to Tylenol+Phenylephrine (useless) + Dextromethorphan HBr + Chlorpheniramine Maleate. The Dextro… is described as a "Cough Suppressant" and "Chlor…" as an antihistamine. I know what Tylenol and Phenylephrine are. I don't really understand the last two drugs, but I think their real purpose is to put you to SLEEP. That's not the worst thing in the world, but they only last for about 4 hours or so. So then I wake up at 3am and want some more, but I worry about taking more because I've been reading that it's easy to overdose on Tylenol and mess up your liver.

Various Zinc stuff, acidophilus, Vitamin C — I already pretty much know that Vitamin C doesn't work, since I already take a lot of it, having read Linus Pauling's book years ago, but I still get plenty of colds, and they last a good, long time. It's possible that some of the other stuff could work. The typical story is that one study showed good results in 1996, but it had some kind of flaw in its setup. Of the remaining studies about half showed something good and half got nulls. Well gosh, 1996 was 16 years ago, and we're talking about alleviating the common cold, which keeps the entire world out of commission for two weeks per year. Why in the heck doesn't somebody do the definitive study? Meanwhile, I have the option of paying the toll to what I suspect are charlatans.

I read about a real company called Biota in Australia that supposedly has something that pretty much cures the common cold, though it's not on the market yet, and it will be very expensive and perhaps only available to asthmatics [I will apply to become one]. However, in the best of circumstances I can't imagine the FDA approving something like that in less than two decades because it will be argued that since nobody dies from the common cold, it's fine for us to just suffer.

I'd be very interested to hear helpful tips.

Leo Jia writes:

Prolonged exposure to negative psychological states such as fear, tension, anxiety and etc, which seem to be inherent but unconscious to most traders, can make one's immune system weak. The immune system is key in fighting cold and other abnormalities in the body. Best things to me that help strengthen the immune system and alleviate negative senses are physical exercises combined with meditation, Yoga or Zen practices. For me personally, playing the violin helps a lot also as the dedicated playing puts one into a concentrated mental state that can be close to meditation.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

To what extent do we catch most of our colds from the classmates of our kids at school or our coworkers at work? Is one of the great advantages of home schooling aside from the fact that the kids don't have to spend every weekend with a wasteful birthday party, that they are healthier and don't catch colds as much? And similarly for work at home. 

Bill Egan writes: 

We homeschool six children. The kids tend to be less sick than the kids of my colleagues at work. Ours still manage to contract a sufficient number of plagues from other kids in our homeschool network, the YMCA, choir, etc.


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