And now for something completely different… For 25+ years, I have suffered from a propensity toward lots of bad upper respiratory infections (URIs) and associated secondary bacterial infections. Recently, I have found two simple interventions that appear to have solved this problem and dramatically improved my quality of life.
First, the history. Ever since I can remember, at least back to high school, I have come down with more than my fair share of URIs. This source says that adults average 2-4 colds per year. I typically averaged 6-8. Moreover, my URIs seemed more severe than other people’s. This study on zinc lozenges says the average length of an untreated cold is 7.6 days. I typically averaged 10-14 days.
Even worse, I developed a lot of secondary bacterial bronchitis and sinusitis, which meant a lot of antibiotics. There were two periods, one in college and one in my late 20s, where I had 3 sinus infections per year for several years. They’d put me on inhaled steroids, which would solve the problem for the six months I was on them plus another six months, after which the sinus infections would return.
Finally, about 2.5 years ago, my father suggested I try a nasal irrigation syringe. I had tried a Neti pot previously without much luck, but the syringe seemed more usable and to generate better irrigation. After about 2 weeks (and two instances of experiencing copious amounts of amazingly neon-colored discharge), my sinuses were clear for the first time in years. I haven’t had a single sinus infection since.
Now, I still had the URIs. They weren’t as bad because I didn’t have painful sinus pressure or develop sinus infections, but they still sucked. This winter, I was on my normal trajectory of 3 colds between Halloween and New Year’s. Then I went for my physical in January and my doctor said my serum vitamin D was very low: 17 ng/ml when the recommended range is 30-100. So I started taking 1,000 IU of D-3 twice a day.
I haven’t had a severe URI since. I think I’ve had a couple of colds, but their quality is completely different than in the past. Hardly even worth mentioning compared to my previous experience. Could be coincidence. However, vitamin D is crucial to enabling the activation of your immune systems T-cells. So an improved immune response makes sense.
Rinsing my sinuses with saline once or twice a day and taking a vitamin supplement twice a day are pretty simple interventions. Probably cost 10-20 cents per day. Extremely low risk of adverse reactions. But if they only improve my experience to the average (and I seem to be doing better than average now), I can expect about 60 more days per year free of URI symptoms. If I’d known about this 25 years ago, that would be a cumulative 4 years saved!
I could have started a whole other startup with the time I spent sick in bed or barely functional at work.
It seems like as our health diagnostic, tracking, and analytic technologies progress, we should be able to identify these situations where simple interventions can result in dramatic health improvements. I imagine we could see a tremendous improvement in economic productivity if my experience is any barometer.