There’s an old saying my grandmother used to repeat to me: It takes a week for a cold to go away, and seven days if you take something for it.
That always made me giggle as a child, but now that we’re in the midst of yet another cold and flu season, I have to wonder: If there’s no cure for a cold, why are there so many cold and flu medicines available to us?
Navigating that aisle in the drugstore can be tricky business. Should you take an expectorant? Cough and cold medication? Cold and flu? In pill form? Liquid? A mixture that tastes horrible but “really works?” Each one promises to take away your symptoms and make you feel better almost instantly. (If you don’t know which type of medicine does what, be sure to check out our article “Over-the-counter 101” this week on Health Local.)
And that’s really the key when it comes to these medications – they alleviate your symptoms. They don’t get rid of the cold virus in your body; they just mask the runny nose, sneezing, chills, fever, sore throat, cough or whatever symptom comes with your cold. They might temporarily make you feel better, but once the effect has worn off, it’s back to square one.
So why do we keep turning to these medications? I don’t know about you but when I’m sick with a cold, I’ll do just about anything to feel better. Yes, I know the medication won’t cure me, but if it can help me get through the day or sleep better at night without coughing, I’m all for it.
I know what you’re thinking – when you’re sick, you need to stay home and rest. That’s the only real cure, and heading out into the world with a virus is not doing anyone any good. Just stay home until you get better.
Like most people, I cringe a little bit when I hear that advice. I KNOW I should stay in bed if I’m sick, but who has time for that? It’s not that my job is so important no one can live without me for a day or two (I daresay most of us exaggerate when we say that). It’s that if I don’t get up and get on with my day, I’m going to fall so far behind I’ll end up overworking myself when I do feel better – and probably get sick all over again. No, to keep my seemingly never-ending to-do list in check, sometimes it’s just better to plow through the illness and keep going.
Which is why those over-the-counter medications are so handy. When I do need to plow through a day with a cold, the medication can make the difference between making it through the day and collapsing in a heap of tissues at my desk.
Of course, if I’m really sick, I will pack it in and stay home to avoid getting others sick. But honestly, if it’s just a cold, I really do take something for it and push through (albeit with a ton of hand sanitizer and a stern warning for others to keep away!).
And I always try to remember that in the end, my grandmother was right. Eventually, that cold will go away all on its own whether I do something about it or not!
A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.