Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2013, 9:33 am

Home remedies 101: Do your symptoms call for a trip to the doctor or kitchen?

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By Laura Anderson Shaw, landerson@qconline.com

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Photo: Paul Colletti
Linnea Crowther made up a her own "health drink" to help her get better when she feels a cold coming on. Ms. Crowther mixes two shots of apple cider vinegar, an Emergen-C packet, some honey and (when she doesn't have to drive) a generous shot of whiskey.
'Tis the season to be sneezin'.

It seems like everyone is passing around some sort of stomach bug or a cold, and it's only a matter of time until the germs hit your household, too--if they haven't already.

How do you know when to tough it out at home and when to see your doc? In an email, Dr. James Henderson of Trinity Express Care in Bettendorf said to see a doctor "if you have severe abdominal or back pain associated with a fever or vomiting; if a cold persists (for) more than a week or you develop chest/rib pain or shortness of breath."

When it comes to sputum (coughed-up mucus), Dr. Henderson said it often is thought that white, yellow or green sputum indicates an infection, "but it does not," he said -- not unless the sputum is "bloody or brown."

Pediatrician Cheryl Remigio of the Trinity Pediatric Group in Bettendorf said in an email that if symptoms get worse over the course of about three to four days, or if symptoms are severe (such as a fever above 102 degrees, difficulty in breathing and lethargy), it's time to see the doctor.

If you've ruled out these symptoms, you can try to mend yourself at home.

"I think there's a lot of value to home remedies, especially with children, as there aren't a lot of OTC (over-the-counter) medications for kids that are recommended or effective," Dr. Remigio said.

We asked Dr. Henderson, Dr. Remigio and folks around the Quad-Cities about their tried and true home remedies to cure what ails them. Next time you find yourself waist-deep in tissues or green around the gills, try one of these panaceas:

Sore throat

-- Mix one tablespoon of honey, 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and four or five cloves of garlic (use a garlic press if you have one). Take 1/2 teaspoon every hour you're awake, suggests Brandy Wiens, of Moline.

"Try to kind of chew it so it coats your throat," she said, adding that you shouldn't drink anything after taking it for at least 15 minutes to give it a chance to work.

"Honey helps sooth and coat (the throat), the cayenne is a pain reliever and also helps bring blood to the area for healing, (and) garlic is antibacterial/antiviral," she said.

-- Michelle Gugelmeyer, of Rock Island, swears by a similar concoction. She got the recipe from a friend, she said, and it includes a spoonful of raw honey (or whatever type is in the cupboard), cayenne pepper to cover the honey on the spoon and a drizzle of freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

"Swallow in one gulp," she said, adding that it's her daughter, Grace's "go-to sore throat remedy."

Common cold / sinus issues / coughs

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For adults, at the first sign of a cold, Dr. Henderson said using zinc, such as Zicam, "has been shown to effectively reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms."

-- To relieve sinus pressure, try reflexology, suggests Ms. Wiens. "There are some pressure points on your toes that are so painful but work like a charm when you find the right spot," she said.

The spots mostly are found on the three middle toes illustrated online at tinyurl.com/arfzo2b, she said.

-- Dr.Remigiosaid she always advises parents of children who are over the age of 1 to soothe upper respiratory issues (such as colds, congestion, coughs and sore throats) with a mixture of warm water, a tablespoon of honey and a little bit of lemon juice.

"I know this works very well to soothe the airways and throat and suppresses the cough at times," she said.

-- Kankakee, Ill., Daily Journal copy editor and product coordinator Kimberly Calhoun, of Rock Island, who works at the Moline Dispatch, pairs lemon juice (about a cap full) with hot apple juice or cider to treat colds.

For nighttime coughs, Ms. Calhoun suggests rubbingVicks Vapor-rub onto the bottoms of your feet and wear socks to bed overnight."I have no idea why this works for coughs, but it seriously does," she said.

-- Take neti pot treatments to the next level by adding half of a teaspoon of peroxide to the saline packet and water mix, said Brandy Welvaert, of East Moline,"and the sinus infection goes away."

-- When you're sick or getting sick, Linnea Crowther, of Rock Island, suggests to mixtwo shots of apple cider vinegar, an Emergen-C packet, some honey and a generous shot of whiskey (if you're 21-years-old or older, and you don't plan to drive anywhere) in a glass of water.

"It's pretty tasty, (and) has some good stuff in it for illnesses," she said.

She also chews a clove of raw garlic and chases it with a glass of tomato juice when she feels a cold coming on.

-- Rebecca Franck, of Davenport, said her cure-all is echinacea tea with honey, lots of water, a vitamin C supplement and a chiropractic adjustment.It has "worked great for me so far," she said.

-- Ashley Adlfinger, of Rock Island, suggests running a hot bath or shower, shutting the bathroom door and sitting in the steam. It "works in place of a vapor machine," she said.

While vaporizers in the bedroom and eating warm soup or drinking hot tea will not speed up recovery time, Dr. Henderson said, they "certainly can help you feel better."

Irritated eyes

-- To soothe pink eye or irritated eyes, Augustana College graduate Liz Jensen, who now lives in Oak Park, Ill., said to heat up a lemon tea bag in water and hold it on your eye.

"I learned this trick from my friend's mom when I lived in Hong Kong," she said. "It helped reduce the swelling and itchiness."

Stomach and digestion issues

-- Jamie Lane, of Rock Island, suggests drinking ginger tea to calm heartburn and stomach issues. If you can't find plain ginger tea, try ginger ale, she said.

-- Dr. Henderson suggests over-the-counter medicines such as motion sickness medications for nausea symptoms. But "be sure to check with your doctor if you take prescription medications or have chronic medical conditions," he said.