I just had a really, really nasty flu, as did many other people. You know, the one with high fever and coughing and such aches that you retreat inside yourself and wonder if it will ever end. I didn’t get tested, but a couple of healthcare professionals told me the severity of it sounded like it could have been the dreaded H1N1. Luckily, I did herbs and acupuncture, and recovered fairly quickly, didn’t get an infection, and didn’t die (yes, I’m still here!) , but did end up with a lingering cough. So, as you might expect, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time thinking about flus, and about healing lungs, since the cough with this is so persistent.
First off, let me tell you, it’s no easy thing being an Acupuncturist who touts wellness and how to avoid colds and flus, and then gets one. I’m supposed to be the example of wellness, and here I am sick. I can be pretty hard on myself, but luckily, I meditate a lot, and know that I’m being hard on myself, and ease up (eventually). Part of how I eased up on this one was remembering the Chinese Medicine teachings on invasion of pathogens. You can get sick either because your immune system, or “Defensive Qi”, was weak and so allowed invasion more easily (which can happen to any of us as soon as there’s a bit a stress); OR, you can get sick because the pathogen was SO strong it overwhelmed your defenses. Now, I will admit that my defenses may have been a little down due to all the turmoil I’ve had lately with moving and my mother’s decline in her health. But at the same time, this was obviously an intensely strong pathogen. In fact, the CDC says you can get it from someone coughing six feet away from you. Somehow I got exposed, not sure from where, but I do ride Bart to work now, just that is enough!
The other thing about such a strong pathogen is that it can be really hard on your body, and on the mucous membranes in your sinuses, throat, bronchii, and lungs. This is usually why people have a lingering cough, not because of bacterial infection. Unless you are having purulent green or brown phlegm and feel tired again or get a fever again, don’t rush to take antibiotics, and let a good doctor decide if you really need them. Taking them when they are not needed can actually be bad for your health. If you do need antibiotics, there’s nothing else like them, so go ahead.
What happens is that the mucus membranes get irritated and inflamed, and it takes them a while to heal, usually three weeks at least. This can be worse for those who tend to have bronchial asthma. But there are things you can do to help them heal! I like to use the acronym MORE AH(more o’ this, more o’ that), for Moisture, Oxygen, Rest, Exercise, Acupuncture, and Herbs:
Moisture: Your lungs and membranes need a lot of moisture to clean themselves up, both inside and out. It’s easy to get dehydrated when you have a fever, and if you are inside heated buildings in the winter, or if it is just dry out or you are not drinking enough. Drinking plenty of fluids will help keep things moist enough for your body to get things out of there, AND adding moisture to the air you breath is vital. This can be done in the form of humidifiers, taking showers, doing steam inhalations over a bowl of hot water, or going to steam rooms.
Oxygen: The other best thing for your lungs is oxygen! Bringing oxygen into your lungs and expelling carbon dioxide is cleansing! So don’t forget to breath, and, in fact, deep breathing is very beneficial. Breath all the way down into your abdomen, and then fully up into the top of your lungs for a count 6, hold for 2 seconds, then exhale slowly. Do this 9 times. Or see my abdominal breathing post!
Rest: It takes effort for your lungs to clean themselves up. If you’re using it running around all over the place and getting stressed, the lungs can’t do the extra work of healing and cleansing. Rest is very important. Sometimes sleeping a couple of 10-12 hour nights in a row with a couple of quiet days does the trick. To this I would add Relaxation. Stress can also interfere with the healing process. I experienced this when my lungs were almost better, then I got stressed about some difficulties my daughter was having in Japan and got worse again. She’s ok, and now my lungs are on the mend again.
Exercise: When you are in the middle of being sick, it is important to just rest, rest, rest, but once you get your energy back, aerobic exercise is great for clearing out the lungs. Could be after a week, or two, depending on the severity of the virus you had. I had to wait almost 2 weeks. But then some moderate aerobic exercise is excellent. You’re getting lots of circulation going to the lungs, lots of oxygen coming in, if you go out in nature, you’re getting fresh air, maybe moist air (the ocean!), and, think about it, it’s like the lungs are a pump, just pumping gunk out of there! I like to go out to a park and enjoy nature and trudge up a few hills in the process.
AH!: The AH is Acupuncture and Herbs. And they really do provide that Ah! sensation. Acupuncture helps promote circulation to the lungs and open them up, and can help expel and dry phlegm. From Chinese Medicine point of view, it can also help address any underlying issues that are aggravating things, like heat, or stagnation from stress. The herbs can really help moisten and open the lungs, and also expel phlegm. Many herbs are known for their excellent lung healing properties. Both herbs and acupuncture can also help improve your energy. I was bad the first couple weeks during and after my flu and didn’t cook herbs. That’s also why my cough lingered. Now I am taking herbs, and really feeling, Ah, wonderful!