The snot busters

1st December 2006 at 00:00
This time of the year half the class probably needs a hanky, so try to quarantine them at the back of the room, says Phil Hammond

As a doctor, I am often asked: "Is there an easy way to boost my immunity?"

And the answer is, yes of course. Just buy a three-month course of Dr Phil's Magical Healing Immune Booster, containing equal parts of eucalyptus, garlic, echinacea, zinc, vit-amin C, astragalus, elderberry, pau d'arco, oscillococcinum, peppermint, elderflower, ginger, horehound, slippery elm, marshmallow root, blackberry leaves, goldenseal, wheatgrass juice, myrrh and gingko nut porridge.

Alternatively (and more cheaply), you could try not to pick up any of the 200 or so viruses that cause colds. You can't stop yourself breathing in other people's germs and, given the debate about veils, you'd be unwise to pitch up for the winter months in a face mask. But most colds are transmitted by touch.

Parents shouldn't send their kids to school when they're dripping with snot, but in the real world it's likely that half the class needs a hanky.

Try to quarantine them at the back of the class. Only touch them as a last resort and then wash your hands before touching your eyes and nose. Beware door knobs and toilet handles - they're often covered with germs from both ends.

The vast majority of cold sufferers have a normal immune system that does not need boosting with herbs or drugs. Those with a wide circle of friends seem to get fewer colds, but whether this is because of the benefits of socialising or sharing herd immunity is unclear. Likewise sexual activity with at least one other person seems to protect against infections (alas not the sexual ones), either through saliva swap or just feeling so damn smug.

If recurrent sore throats are your Achilles' heel, try buying a new toothbrush. Your old bristles may be dripping with nasties. If you do get the sniffles, don't go to the doctor. You'll only give it to him (or her).

If you have a favourite remedy, by all means use it. Controlled trials of Dr Phil's Booster have shown it to be a foul-tasting placebo. But if you think something will make you better, it generally will.

I have patients who swear by inhaling heated air from a hairdryer, wearing wet socks in bed and mustard footbaths. And who am I to disabuse them?

Antihistamines and Ibuprofen aren't a bad option. Failing that, try plenty of sleep, water and Hammond's Honey, Horseradish and Hot Lemon Tickly Sinus Wash-out (recipe on request)

Dr Phil Hammond is a GP and chair of governors at a primary school in Somerset

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