Home Remedies: Flu and COVID-19 Triage at Home
By Hong Truong, DO
The COVID-19 coronavirus is on the minds of everyone. After hearing news reports of the lockdown happening in China, overrun hospitals, limited resources (hospitals, medical providers, medical supplies), and sold out face masks, it is evident to me that people are starting to panic. As a physician of Osteopathic Medicine who specializes in Integrative Medicine, I do not want you to panic, fear, or feel helpless. I was moved to make this advice guide to give you back hope. It contains some actions you can take now to prevent illness or triage any person at home, using common items that are low risk, low cost, but highly effective. Lastly, at the end, I mention techniques that would be a bit more advanced but doable. These techniques were used to battle the Flu Pandemic (Spanish Flu) of 1918 with great success. Will our hospital systems be ready for an epidemic? In response to any epidemic, I believe we should prepare ourselves.
Disclaimer: This guide for Flu and COVID-19 is not a substitution for seeking medical help. Any advice I give on techniques or home remedies are the ones I have tried on others or personal routines I use myself. These recommendations apply to teenagers and up. Parents of young children and pregnant women, check with your physician. Use this guide at your own risk, although I believe it would be a low risk.
Prevention is Key
Do not panic if you do not have a face mask. Current strategy applies to the Wuhan or Influenza virus. CDC does not recommend face masks for the general public. And remember, just because a person is wearing a face mask does not mean they are sick. Do not panic when you see someone wearing a face mask. You should actually thank them for being considerate.
Protect yourself. Good hand washing and avoiding touching your eyes and nose is the best way to protect yourself. If you will be handling many objects (ID Cards/Cellphones etc etc), you may want to wear disposable gloves. I am hoping by wearing gloves it reminds you not to touch your nose or mouth. Change them when they get sweaty and use proper techniques. Take off one glove and place that glove into your gloved hand. Take off the remaining glove without touching the outside of the glove. If you have to touch your eyes or nose, wash your hands first. Sneeze into your arm crease/elbow crease. Keeping a hand sanitizer/rubbing alcohol bottle in your pocket may not be a bad idea.
If you are sick, stay home!
Exercise to sweat daily. Increased temperature improves your body’s ability to fight off infections. More body movement improves lymphatic fluids movement — fluids responsible for fighting off infection and carrying waste products. Lymph is moved with muscle contractions.
Keep all orifices clean. Nasal saline spray is helpful. Humidified air also helps to keep the nasal passages moist and working. If the air is dry it will make the nasal passages crack and then viruses can enter more easily. Drink warm ginger/honey tea for the mouth and throat. Ginger and honey or garlic have natural antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Warm tea will help to wash off any excess mucus in the tonsils, and keeping the body warmer than usual will help fluids move freely in the body and increase your body’s own immune cells.
Get good sleep/rest. Do not exhaust yourself.
What to do when you start feeling that scratchy throat? (May do any of the following. This is a list and and not a sequence)
- Bundle up and get a good sweat OR/AND
- Get a bucket of warm water/hot to tolerable and put your feet in to increase circulation and increase body temperature. Again, this assists your body to fight infections. If you have Diabetes or neuropathy of the feet, BE CAREFUL! DO NOT BURN or SCALD YOURSELF. 20 -30 minutes. Repeat in a few hours as needed. When you have a good sweat that is the right temperature. Do not underestimate this technique! People in the past used this method every night to stay healthy. Drink some fluids afterwards.
- Gargle salt water.
- Drink warm honey/lemon/ginger tea.
- Avoid fatty meals. It can be taxing to the body. Rich broth soups and noodles are easier to digest. Congee (rice porridge) is also possible.
- Exercise to a good sweat. No need to overdo it. Muscle contraction means your immune system is pumping.
- Bounce on your toes. Shake your arms and body. Make sure you move after sitting or lying for 20 minutes. This rule actually improves longevity. Prolonged sitting is the strongest risk factor for early death.
- Acupressure points (many to choose from but these are the ones I like). Rub your hands and forearms. Internet search these acupuncture points: Focus Large Intestine-4, Lung- 7, Pericardium- 6, Large 11. Rub/massage your wrists and rub/massage your elbow. Rub your lower leg knee area and ankles and shin muscles. Focus on Stomach 36, Stomach 40, Spleen 4, Spleen 6. Use menthol based products or massage oil.
- Give yourself a foot massage. Use a tennis ball. Roll the whole bottom of the foot. If there is a sore spot, lean into the tennis ball. (This is like reflexology)
- Cupping, gua sha, the body with a menthol based product like Icy/Hot or Vick’s Vapor Rub. Internet search “Chinese cupping,” “gua sha,” or “coining.” Move from the front of the body to the back of the body. Get close to the collar bone (front, above, back). All the lymph dumps into the top of the collar bone (thoracic duct). Warning: Gua Sha/coining/cupping can cause bruise-like marks. That is okay! When the blood breaks down the byproduct is bilirubin, which is a great antioxidant. Gua sha is shown to boost the immune system also.
- Stay hydrated with different types of fluids (tea, sports drinks, pedialyte). Drinking only water is problematic as it dilutes your body salt.
- Zinc and Vitamin C are helpful. A multivitamin can be helpful if you are starting to feel under the weather. However, do not take these in excess or more than the recommended dosages.
Nasty cough starting?
- Use cough drops.
- Stay warm. Some people have cold induced cough (bronchospasm).
- Make sure your air is not too dry. Do not worry if you do not have a humidifier. Boil some water in a pot and leave it out in your bedroom.
- Cough medicine can be helpful at night to get a restful sleep. Pick your favorite one. My favorite is: King to Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa.
- Do everything I mentioned before in the scratchy throat (starting to feel sick section)
- Recently, I stumbled upon a treatment when I got a really bad cough. I would put a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine on my upper trap muscles and turn up the electricity to the point my shoulder shrugs automatically. TENS machines have electrical pads that you can put on your muscle and the machine will send a small amount of electricity to contract/stimulate them. These machines are used for sore muscles. I put the timer on for 20-40 minutes. This allowed me to go to sleep without coughing all night long. I am not sure why it works for me but I am suspecting that I am contracting and stimulating all the secondary respiratory muscles (like scalenes and traps) and freeing up my thoracic duct so lymph can pump into my heart, freeing myself from congestion. Don’t overdo it! I worry about muscle break down if you leave the electrical stimulator on all day. If there are any other sore spots, put the TENS there and stimulate.
- Steam some pears with honey. Even if it doesn’t work it is pretty tasty.
- Ibuprofen/Tylenol (acetaminophen) if possible. I take Ibuprofen for sore throats too. Watch out for high doses or overuse of Ibuprofen if you have kidney disease or stomach bleed issues — do not go above the recommended dosing.
- Cupping and gua sha works wonderfully. Add the menthol rub/massage oil and get a massage. Highly recommend it for this battle. Google Harvard study Gua Sha to read more about gua sha. No need for fancy equipment. I use a spoon, the white asian soup spoons, and some vicks vapor rub and I scrape away. Tip: Be gentle around boney areas. Try to get between the rib spaces. Intercostal muscles, muscles between ribs, are primary muscles for respiration.
If you tolerate the fever, let it stay elevated. Above 103-104 F start using fever reducers (Acetaminophen, ibuprofen). Stay hydrated. Your body is fighting off the infection. Usually a person experiencing a sudden fever will feel cold. So the hot water feet soak and bundling up actually makes one feel better. At times you can have a cold cloth on the forehead, but keep the body warm.
If you look up 1918 Pandemic Flu (Spanish Flu), https://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2094647, you will come across an article about how osteopathic physicians utilize lymphatic techniques to keep their patients well and alive. If you have a loved one that needs it to be done, search the following techniques for demonstrations. The moves are gentle.
Make sure you put on a protective face mask or makeshift bandana mask. Try not to have the patient cough on you when you are working around the face.
Use the videos as a reference. It is better to be gentle. Do not need to be forceful. Your patient can tell if you are too forceful or not. Do not need to be perfect right now. Thank you to the doctors and medical students that made these videos.
Youtube: OMT Lymphatic Techniques
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB4pjIJflU4 – Great intro and explanation and gives us warnings when not to use these techniques. Jump to 2:50 for demonstration of techniques. Try not to be overwhelmed by the technical jargon.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F19vb9PvG3g – Another great intro and explanation. Jump to 1:50 for demonstration of techniques. Only do techniques you understand.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4lW9K7v5TA – Rib raising technique. This technique helps people breathe better.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-Z7iMr8uvQ – Rib raising with the patient lying on their side.
Techniques to really focus on:
Massage the neck and base and top of the shoulders.
Massage the whole back and arms. Aim towards the heart with your motion
Rhythmic thoracic pump 5-10 minutes
Pedal Pump- 5-10 minutes
Tip: When pumping the thoracic or foot, observe how the body moves. If you are going too fast or too slow you will feel a lot of resistance. When you find the right frequency in speed and force, you will feel a smooth rhythmic bounce of the whole body.
May repeat every few hours as needed
Do not underestimate the power of human touch. Just try with good intentions and you will make a difference.
Overall, the theme is to get the lymph system moving with massage, movement or any other techniques out there. Try to utilize these suggestions before or at the early onset of symptoms. If things get really bad do not hesitate to call 911/emergency.
People’s lives are at stake, so I ask for the internet trolls to stay away. I hope this guide helps you and your loved ones. Your community and government are working around the clock and help will be there soon.