Want to stay healthy this cold and flu season? While locking yourself in your room for the winter may be one strategy, we have nine others that are proven to reduce the risk of falling ill during the winter months without hampering your social life.
First, let’s look at what we’re trying to avoid.
How many colds should you expect per year?
The two most common illnesses during the winter months are colds and influenza. On average, adults typically contract about three colds per year, while children get about six colds per year. Colds usually last seven to 10 days, with the worst symptoms occurring between the first and third days.
How are they spread?
Cold and flu viruses are spread by the secretions of an infected person (i.e. particles from coughing or sneezing), either indirectly via a surface or through direct contact.
Cold & flu symptoms
Common symptoms of the cold include a cough, runny nose and sore throat.
Symptoms of the flu can be similar, but are often more severe and can be accompanied by fever and/or muscle aches.
9 effective strategies for warding off colds and flu
1. Prevention – The most effective way to prevent colds and flu is proper hand-washing. You should also create a barrier when coughing or sneezing, such as into a tissue or into your sleeve, and choose to stay home when you are ill to prevent the spread of colds and flu.
2. Sleep and stress – Chronic stress, or stress lasting longer than one month, can increase your susceptibility to colds and flu. Prolonged lack of sleep can also reduce your body’s immune response, which can lead to an increase in viral illnesses. If you’re suffering from chronic stress or a lack of sleep, be sure to speak with your Copeman Healthcare physician.
3. Immunizations – An annual flu shot is recommended for everyone over the age of six months. Immunizations that become part of a routine childhood vaccination schedule will also help protect against other common winter diseases, such as pneumonia and rotavirus. Adults with chronic health conditions, as well as those over the age of 65, should also be immunized against pneumonia.
4. Supplements – The use of probiotics and/or zinc supplements may help reduce the frequency of colds and flu. Contrary to popular belief, there are no clear benefits to using garlic, ginger, ginseng, salt water gargling, vitamins C and/or D, Echinacea or homeopathic medications in terms of preventing colds or influenza.
5. Treatment – Unfortunately, once you have contracted a cold or flu, all you can do is manage your symptoms. Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. A combination of decongestants with either antihistamines or analgesia (in adults and adolescents over the age of 12) can help provide relief from symptoms.
6. Fever management – Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) can both help reduce symptoms such as muscle aches and fever during a cold or flu.
7. Cough suppression – Decongestants are not recommended for children under the age of 12. For children over the age of two, a teaspoon or two of honey can act as a natural cough suppressant. Unfortunately, there are no effective herbal remedies that have been proven to help shorten the course of colds or flu.
8. Nasal irrigation – There may be some benefit to the use of nasal irrigation to relieve nasal congestion associated with colds and flu. This includes the use of neti pots and saline irrigation sprays.
9. Antivirals – Antibiotics are not effective against colds or flu. Antiviral medicine is recommended only for those at risk of serious complications from the flu, which include infants, toddlers and the elderly.
Stay healthy this cold and flu season by reducing your stress levels, getting lots of sleep and washing your hands frequently. For more information, or for more personalized tips on preventing winter illnesses, consult your Copeman Healthcare physician or family health nurse.