The common cold and flu are the dreaded illnesses of the season and the top reason for doctors’ visits along with absences from work or school. These illnesses are caused by respiratory viruses and are not cured by antibiotics. They are easily spread and often make us feel absolutely miserable. Therefore, it is important to know the steps you can take to avoid these illnesses and stay healthy during this winter season.
1) WASH YOUR HANDS
The germs of a million viruses are everywhere—it is very easy to spread these germs through our contact with others and with our environment. It is important to wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizers when in contact with others to help avoid the spread of germs associated with the cold and flu.
2) COVER YOUR MOUTH…
…when you sneeze or cough. The viruses associated with the common cold or flu are spread through airborne particles called “respiratory droplets.” Cover your mouth with the nook of your elbow to avoid having these germs on your hands and spreading them. Covering your mouth also helps keep those around you healthy—keeping those healthy around you will keep you healthy.
3) GET PLENTY OF REST
When you sleep, your body recovers, refreshes and recharges. Sleep is crucial for your body to replenish and boost your body’s immune system to fight off infections and keep you healthy .When you are run down, sleep deprived, and/or stressed, your immune defenses are down and your body is more susceptible to illness
4) DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS
You may think it is not as important to stay well hydrated during the winter months as it is during the hot, humid summer months. This is not true! The cold, dry air outside, the dry heat in our homes, and other factors contribute to dehydration in the winter. Dehydration also weakens your body’s immune system making your body less effective in fighting off colds, flu and other infections.
5) NUTRITION – VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS
There are mixed opinions about the use of vitamin and herbal supplements (such as vitamin C, zinc, Echinacea, etc.) to boost your body’s immune system and prevent colds and flu. Regular use of vitamin C has not been shown to prevent the common cold and flu. However, it may help to shorten the duration and lessen the symptoms of the illness. Zinc has also been shown to decrease the duration and severity of symptoms associated with the common cold. But before you rush out to the store, talk to your doctor. Overuse of these supplements can have serious adverse effects. More studies are needed to definitively state the benefits of vitamins and herbal supplements. What we do know is that eating a balanced diet is key in staying healthy. Getting the essential nutrients by eating fruits and vegetables and limiting unhealthy fats will keep your immune system strong and healthy.
The bottom line is a healthy lifestyle—including our diet, healthy hydration, exercise, adequate rest and reduced stress—is crucial to staying healthy and preventing the common cold and flu during the winter months. Dr. Annette Gadegbeku
is an assistant professor in the Department of Family, Community, and Preventive Medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine. She serves as a physician preceptor for the College of Medicine’s Health Outreach Project (H.O.P) Clinics, which provide care to underserved Philadelphians through four free health clinics, run by Drexel medical students.