How I manage cold and flu symptoms as someone with PH

A columnist shares the remedies that work for her, and the ones she avoids

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by Jen Cueva |

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A cold or the flu comes with challenges, especially for pulmonary hypertension (PH) patients. Because we cannot take decongestants, which cause the pulmonary arteries to narrow, we must largely rely on our body’s natural defense mechanisms. But this can be difficult, as we may already be dealing with fatigue and other PH symptoms.

Those of us with PH must remember that caring for ourselves is critical in helping a cold pass faster. We should avoid overexerting ourselves or pushing through while feeling unwell. Rest is one of the most effective remedies!

Help for congestion

If you’re experiencing breathing difficulties due to a cold, speak with your doctor immediately. They may recommend an airway clearance technique or other treatment options that can help you manage your symptoms.

My medical team often orders several daily nebulizer breathing treatments to help me with congestion and wheezing. I have a portable nebulizer and inhalation treatments for times like these.

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Say no to decongestants

Although decongestants can help reduce swelling and congestion, they do this by constricting blood vessels, which can worsen PH and cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate.

Instead, I use a saline nasal spray and a neti pot to help clear my sinuses. My PH team also recommends I take guaifenesin without any decongestant. Both Robitussin and Delsym offer this kind of product. Always check with your PH doctor before taking any medications.

Take caution with pain relievers

Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be OK for some. However, these kinds of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause fluid retention or swelling, which may exacerbate PH-related issues. They’re also generally not recommended for those on blood thinners, as this class of medications can increase the risk of bleeding.

Personally, I can take acetaminophen, but ibuprofen and other NSAIDs are off limits for me due to chronic kidney disease (CKD). Again, always consult your doctor before taking any medications. It’s also important to carefully read the labels on cold and flu medications, as some contain pain relievers.

Soup is good for the soul

When someone has a cold or the flu, they’re often encouraged to drink extra fluids. But what about those of us with fluid restrictions? Because I have both PH and CKD, I must limit my fluid intake. But soups count as fluids for me, as do Popsicles and similar foods that many find easier to eat when sick.

As a child, I learned that soup can help me feel better, and it’s something I continue to enjoy, even when I’m struggling with congestion or a cough. I told my nephrologist that I especially like broth because it has the most flavor, and she said that it’s OK for me to eat as long as I’m not consuming bowls of it daily. Broth has many valuable nutrients, so it’s a balancing act.

Old remedies

Growing up, I learned several tricks that have been passed down in my family. For years, I’d put a little Vicks VapoRub on my chest and feet at night when I had a cold. But now, putting it on my chest is too much for my senses, so I usually only put it on my feet, along with a pair of warm socks.

Additionally, my late stepfather always believed in giving us a hot toddy before bed. He said it’d heal whatever ailed us and help us “grow hair on our chest.” Our house was full of girls, so we always gave him a hard time about that. His hot toddy was whiskey and lemon juice heated up and poured down the hatch like a shot. My late PHriend, Moma Hen, had her own ritual with Mexican cinnamon sticks, tequila, and lemon. She’d often add a cough drop in the bottom and make tea.

However, it’s important to note that many PH patients may need to limit or avoid alcohol consumption due to potential disease complications or medication interactions. Make sure to talk with your PH doctor about whether drinking is safe for you, and if you imbibe, always do so legally and responsibly.

I hope this column can help you prepare for your next cold or flu. Even a simple illness can have a major effect on our health with PH, sometimes causing us to take weeks to recover. So let’s stay proactive and be aware of which remedies are safe and beneficial for us to use.

As a PH patient, how do you manage a cold or the flu? Please share in the comments below.

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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