Dealing With Cold and Flu Symptoms

Yes, that time of year is upon us again – the season of colds and flu. These maladies are causes by viruses and therefore cannot be successfully treated with antibiotics. But, there are things you can to to reduce the symptoms and feel better while your body rages the war on foreign invaders. Normally I try to avoid using medications as much as possible.

As an alternative to medications, I personally use steam inhalers. Although quite common in the United States, I have only seen 2 models here in Taiwan. We have the Omron NES18 (bought in Hukou for NT$3,500) and it’s probably the most unusual unit I’ve ever seen. There is a small internal tank where the water is boiled, and they recommend saline solution (which I don’t get). In the front is a small divided tank with a compartment for cold water and also a compartment for condensation discharge. The cold water mixes with the steam to ensure that it doesn’t burn you when you breath the vapors. I sometimes add a drop or two of some kind of medicinal oil, like Green Oil, or Tiger Oil to the water and breath the vapors.

When I used to live in the US, I had the Vicks Personal Steam Inhaler, and this simple unit is one of the easiest to use and is very effective. Basically, it’s just a small heating pot with a shroud and hood to concentrate the steam for inhalation. There are adjustable vents that permit outside air to mix with the steam to control the temperature. You can take off the clear plastic hood for cleaning. Adding medicinal oils works very well with this model too. I’ve also owned another model that was similar to this design but I have long forgotten the brand name. This design works alright but one has to sit over the unit with the face oriented downward more than the other designs.

This is the Mabis Healthcare Steam Inhaler. I have never owned one of these but I expect that it would perform as well as any of these other units and give you relief from sinus symptoms. This model boasts a variable steam adjustment with a particle range size of 0.5 to 10 microns. It also has a separate aromatherapy tank for adding medicinal oils.

Inhaling steam can clean your sinus cavities and leave you breathing freely. The steam also moisturizes tissues making your nasal passages feel relieved. For many people the symptoms of a cold or flu seem worse upon awakening. If you use a steam inhaler immediately after waking up, you just won’t believe the difference in how you feel later. The temperature of the steam is perfect for deep breathing and it feels great.

Just because you can’t find one of these steam inhalers doesn’t mean that you’re out of luck. In the old days we would heat a kettle of water and pour some boiling water into a bowl. A towel thrown over the head makes a good “tent” and allows you to breath steam until the water cools. You can also add medicinal oils to the bowl. I used to put a small amount of Tiger Balm in the bowl and add boiling water. The water melts the balm and releases the vapor. Just beware that when the water cools down the waxy base will re- solidify. You’ll have to clean that out of the bowl. The same goes for using Tiger Balm in an inhaler.

If you any of the following problems, one of these steam inhalers could be a godsend. Steam inhalation may help to relieve:

  • Flu
  • Bronchitis
  • Sinusitis
  • Laryngitis
  • Allergies
  • Dry nose
  • Nasal, sinus and chest congestion
  • Coughs
  • Parched throat

Here’s hoping that you can find some relief of these symptoms!

(Visited 3,520 times, 1 visits today)


  1. Those inhalers seem more environmentally friendly then long, hot showers. Steam does wonders for breaking up congestion.

    I try to avoid medications as well. Who knows what long term impact those medicines will have on your health.

    owshawng’s last blog post..Origins of Owshawng

    1. owshawng » you don’t have to get undressed to use the steam inhaler too. so you can use it right before you have to go out and do something. very convenient.

  2. I’ve been suffering from cold and flu symptoms for two weeks. I’m dragging my butt this week too. I thought I was getting better after losing my voice last week and then got sick again on Monday. It must be all the snotty 2 and 3 year olds I see three times a week. Bless their dear little hearts….I wish the little kiddies wouldn’t come within a 100 yards when they’re ill. Anyways, I’ve found that adding a touch of Vick’s Vaporub or TigerBalm works wonders. Great suggestion! I hope you and Hui-chen are staying healthy.

    Carrie’s last blog post..Photo Moment: Only in Japan?.

    1. Carrie » we are trying our best! as you know the winters here are very different than North America. where it’s a dry cold there, in Taiwan this cold is wet and bone-chilling, even though the temperature isn’t all that low. take it easy!

  3. MJ they are cool looking devices and I don’t know if I would find one up here in Isaan country. I am like you and don’t put chemicals or medicines into my body unless it really needs to be done.

    I have been suffering from a cold/flu for 4 days and has been slowly building. I would love to give one of the inhalers a go.

    I remember back home when we were little and had a horrible flu mum would boil water in a pot and put some tiger balm (dad swore black and blue by this ointment for flues aches and anything else) oil or vicks into the water and then you would sit with a towel over your head covering the pot while you inhaled the vapours.

    I remember that working so these little ripper machines would do the job for sure. Thanks for a great post MJ and the really useful information.

    Brunty’s last blog post..Thailand. Research work and late nights taking its toll.

    1. Brunty » the whole time i was reading about your mother boiling water etc., i was thinking of that scene in Crocodile Dundee where Paul Hogan dumps that guy’s coke stash into a bowl of water and puts a towel over his head! lol man that has got to be one of the funniest scenes ever shot! as you know, in Asia you can get all kinds of oils and fortunately you can recognize the brands anywhere (that saved me a few times in Thailand).
      the new machine that we got is Japanese and its very complicated. but it also works amazingly well. you can regulate the flow of steam by 2 settings and also the amount of outside air mixed in. i bet you can find an inhaler in Tesco. take care.

  4. I remember my mother using the boiling water with towel and Vicks for her sinuses. I’ve never actually tried it myself – I just rub a bit of Tiger Balm under my nose and breathe that in. Seems to work.

    I used to have a great Ayurvedic oil that I picked up in India about 10 years ago. One drop under the nose or on the temples was enough – even that burned, but it worked amazingly well.

    cfimages’s last blog post..Light and Fruit

    1. cfimages » i do the Tiger Balm under the nose thing myself. it helps that i have a mustache! when traveling, such as on a bus or plane, i’ve put a few drops of aromatic oil on my Taiwanese scooter mask and worn that for a nap. i always feel better when i wake up. i’ve never heard of that oil you mentioned but i would like to try it.

  5. Don’t pack Vicks or Tiger Balm in your carry-on luggage or else you might have to explain to airport security that it’s “balm”… BALM BALM!! IT’S a BALM!!

    1. Mitesh Damania » i was talking with an American engineer the other day and he told me that his fellow engineer made the mistake of referring to a Bill of Material as a “bom” during a boarding conversation. believe it or not, they were delayed for this foolishness. it seems that people have lost their senses these days….

Comments are closed.