How to deal with an ailment and remain vegan

For the record, I don’t get ill often. I exercise regularly, drink a ton of water and a vegan diet means I eat pretty clean. To be honest, I haven’t gotten sick since I switched over to vegan. I should be the picture of health, in fact! However, when the occasion arises that I do get sick, I get sick bad. Unfortunately, right now is one of those times.

It all started a few days ago and it was the usual suspects: sneezing, itchy eyes, stuffy nose and a bit of a headache. I thought the headache was due to my coffee withdrawal (I had made it four days but finally surrendered) but the symptoms persisted. I went to bed Sunday night and struggled to find sleep. Monday morning I woke up and BAM: my entire nose was stuffed up. The last few days, I have been a sneezing, itchy mess. Imagine an eighty pound weight on your face…that’s how I feel. My entire head feels so congested that I think it might explode. At least it would bring some relief. I think whatever bug I caught is on its way out, though I still have some dull pain in my nose and head today.

I live in the St. Louis area and, like the rest of the United States, we got hit pretty badly with some extreme weather this week…Polar Vortex, anyone? I think the dryness and the extreme temperatures have done a number on my sinuses, so I’m going to say that is the culprit here. I’m just thankful it isn’t an infection.

So, let me get to the point: How to keep vegan integrity in tact while dealing with being sick. 

First, let me stress that I am in no way a medical doctor with any sort of advanced medical knowledge. I am just going to tell you what works for me. 

Even before I went vegan, I stayed away from pharmaceuticals as much as possible…I just don’t like putting chemicals into my body. Plus, there is usually always a natural remedy for anything. However, it is important to consider your health and wellbeing and understand that when the pain or discomfort is serious, sometimes it is best to suck it up, get over yourself and take whatever medicine it is you need. That’s the point I reached yesterday.

Most pills and capsules, unfortunately, are not vegan or even vegetarian (short answer: the gel capsules contain gelatin, a pig-derived product). I wish I could tell you there was an easier way to determine whether a medicine was vegan or not, but there isn’t: just read the label of active and inactive ingredients with great care and if something looks questionable, research it.

For my congestion, I got Halls Intense-Cool drops so I could actually breathe out my nose and they worked well in the sense that I got temporary relief for 20 or so minutes.

For extended relief, I used Tylenol Cold Multi-Symptom liquid which is also vegan (hooray!). I got the nighttime kind since the daytime kind had honey in it. Usually, nighttime medications don’t make me drowsy, but this one knocked me out 30 minutes after taking it. I slept through the night and was able to breathe.

You can also find a great list of vegan medications here.

If natural relief is more your fancy, I have really taken to the following:

  • Obviously drink a lot of water
  • Drink tea. Twinings Peppermint or Twinings Lemon-Ginger have really helped open the passage up a little bit. I have tried swapping tea out for coffee in the mornings when I have been sick since I do add almond milk to my coffee. I don’t know if this is true for non-dairy milk, but I have always been told dairy milk only worsens congestion. I don’t want to test this theory while sick. Plus, coffee dries you out and when you are trying to retain fluids and let your body heal, dehydration is the last thing you want
  • Hot showers. That is really the only time in the day that I feel perfectly fine when I am sick. The heat opens everything up
  • Vicks VapoRub. We swear by this stuff in my house and I think we have for as long as I can remember. This magical, petroleum-based spread has menthol and eucalyptus that will help you breathe. But I’ll remind you like my Mom reminds me: “Be sure to wear an old shirt you don’t care about!” This topical ointment will leave a stain. I usually rub just a little bit on my skin near my shirt collar and then stick my nose in my shirt. Super silly but super effective.
  • Apply heat. If I could give you one artifact to represent my family, I’d present to you the beloved and all wonderful…the Rice Sock. I have no idea when my Mom decided to make this dream a reality but basically the Rice Sock is a long sock filled with rice (no explanation needed here) that you heat up in the microwave for about two minutes and put on your head when you have a headache. Almost like a heating pad. It works great for headaches and I’m a big fan of it. When I went to bed last night, my Mom suggested I use the Rice Sock and put it on my face and it might feel good. It did. I’m a big advocate of the Rice Sock and I give it my best recommendation — a little heating pad you can take anywhere, plus I’m sure it would be a great DIY project (*be sure to use long grain rice, not minute rice!)
  • Don’t skip meals. I know this is tempting because when I’m sick, my appetite is usually gone. However, it is so important to eat healthy when sick so you can kick whatever is ailing you faster.
  • Rest. I don’t even need to explain this. I have become a semi-permanent fixture on our couch and have watched more “Sherlock” than I care to admit.

I’m not willing to compromise being vegan for temporary pain relief, but it is also important to listen to your body and address what it needs. My biggest tip for you, again, is to do your research.

Stay healthy, friends! [sniffle, sneeze, cough]

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