Thai Food and The Common Cold

How Do Thais Treat the Common Cold?

When I first arrived on Thai soil in 2004, it took me about two weeks to come down with what I thought was a raging flu. As it turns out, it was just food poisoning. Still, it mimics the same sort of symptoms as influenza, so I had a stuffy nose, I was weak, and I had a fever a lot.

What Thai Food to Eat to Help Your Cold?

  • yum woon sen (spicy glass noodle salad)
  • som tam (spicy unripe papaya salad)
  • tom yum naam sai (spicy shrimp soup with clear broth)
  • lab moo (spicy pork salad), lahp gai (chicken), lahp anything!
  • gwit diao gai (chicken-noodle soup), gwit diao moo (pork)
  • add prik naam pla to any meal with rice to spice it up!
  • warm water (hot, like tea) with ginger in it

What Not To Do!

I had many Thais try to take care of me and tell me what to do. Instead, I went out and found pills like Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride and some other over-the-counter medicines. When I went to the doctor, he at first wanted to give me antibiotics and Tylenol. Later I learned that this is the treatment regimen for nearly any sickness – Tylenol and antibiotics.

So, that first cold was horrible – my sinuses were stuffed up solid and I had a headache for a few days because of it. I couldn’t yet eat the real spicy food, but when I tried some spicy – it made me feel better. Later I learned how Thais take care of a common cold.

Thai Style for Treating Colds

I’ve had a runny nose and no energy for the last five days, so I’m motivated to write about this issue. Here’s how Thais go about treating a cold.

  1. Don’t Blow Your Nose. Huh? I know. This is about the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard, but this is really what they do. I’ve yet to see any Thai, but those with Western husbands, blow their noses for any reason. Thais just don’t do it. They wipe. And wipe, and wipe, and wipe. Over the last 12 years, I’ve tried this with colds sometimes. What happens is that my sinuses don’t get packed solid like they do when I blow my nose. I have no idea what is going on in the nasal passages, but for some reason, blowing the nose changes the whole dynamics and causes a much higher likelihood of bad sinus headaches and blocked sinuses. Try it! For me, I’ve tried it and I still go back to blowing my nose because it just feels good for a brief second to get it out.
  2. Eat Spicy Food Constantly. This is what Thais do anyway, but this just gives them an excuse to do it some more! From the time I get sick until I am over it, I eat every meal as spicy as I can have it. I just filmed this video about what I eat for breakfast and lunch – Gwit Diao noodles with a teaspoon of dried red pepper spices. For dinner I’ll have something like Grapow Gai (Basil chicken) or Lahp Gai – Spicy ground chicken salad – and I will just pour on the prik naam pla (hot chilis in fish sauce). If you eat spicy food with every meal, your sinuses never get a chance to get packed in – and they’re always draining. Though it’s a pain to keep wiping – or blowing – anything is better than a sinus headache!
  3. Take Antibiotics for Everything. This is going to blow up in their faces, I’m sure. It probably already has. They do these really short-term antibiotics for 2-3 days and quit. They do this multiple times throughout the year. I remember one time I had like 4 little colds in a year, and I could have gotten antibiotics for every instance. There are going to be some horrible strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria coming out of Thailand before too long. Tylenol is also prescribed for every cold or problem.
  4. Drink Nothing Cold – everything must be room temperature, or more preferably – warm. You know in your country, if you have a sore throat, your mom will let you eat as much ice cream as you want? Well, here they don’t do that. In fact, even plain water must be warmed before someone who is sick can drink it. It’s strange – but, it works. I can testify to it. I’ve been slightly ill for the last five days. If I took even ONE glass of ice-cold beer, my cold would instantly get 200-300% worse! I’ve watched it happen over and over. It’s a fact – cold food will increase the severity of your cold by a couple of times. Don’t do it!

So, that’s basically the Thai method of treating a cold.

Tom yum soup (spicy Thai soup)
Spicy tom yum will give you what you need during a cold!

Saline Nasal Treatment

If you really want to do it right – get some saline solution, or make some with bottled water and salt, and use a little squirter bottle to pour it into your nose (while your head is either held way back or way forward). Hold the other nostril closed with your thumb and finger.

Fill it up. Hold it in there a bit. Stand up and let it drain out into the sink or toilet. Do the other side. Did it loosen it all up in there? Do that a few times each day. If you want, you can warm the water a bit too – it helps more.

Oh, wait, I have one more very good tip for you.

Butter Builds Phlegm!

In addition to eating all the spicy Thai food you can possibly eat, here are some things you absolutely CANNOT eat. Do not eat anything with dairy in it.

Absolutely No:

  • cow milk, coconut milk, any other milk
  • ice-cream
  • eggs
  • yogurt
  • butter
  • cheese
  • or anything else with a lot of fat – like peanut butter

Fat builds up the snot quickly. If you’re ever sick and then eat a very cheesy pizza, you’re going to increase the snot and mucus in your body by the quart. Really, it’s guaranteed that dairy makes sinuses worse.

Humid Air is Much Better Than Dry Air

Most of you will have no choice with this, depending on where you live, but I noticed something else. When the air is humid here in Thailand – like it is 98% of the year, my colds are much less severe. When the air is dry – my common colds are uncommonly worse.

Right now it is dry here in Southern Thailand, and maybe that’s why this weak cold has held on for 5 days and wasn’t gone in 24 hours like most of my colds.

OK, well, try these tips the next time you’re ill. I think you’re going to find that the Thai style, plus my extra tips, pull you through it in a little better condition than you’ve been before! Let us know in the comments!


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