8 Ways to Prevent Colds and Flus this Winter

Personal Health

As we bid a fond adieu to summer weather, enjoy the cool Autumn breeze, and anxiously await whatever pleasures or pain winter has in store for us, it’s a good time to think about protecting ourselves from the seasonal colds and flus lurking just around the corner. First things first: Jenny McCarthy, Bill Maher, and Jim Carrey be damned, get your flu shot. Flu vaccines don’t cause autism and they offer you some measure of protection from the misery of influenza, a disease that kills many thousands of people around the world. Because doctors can only make an educated guess as to what flu strains will migrate around the globe, last year’s vaccine was only about 50% successful. However, doctors this year are more confident that they have nailed the likely predominant flu viruses and this year’s vaccines should be much more effective.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average adult will contract two or three colds this winter. While not as misery-producing as the flu (which causes headache, muscle aches and pain, a dry hacking cough, and fever), colds (which usually produce head and chest congestion, coughs, runny noses, and general malaise) are nonetheless a drag. The good news is that cold and flu viruses, though different, can, to some extent, be avoided. Here are 8 ways to minimize your chances of getting the flu or a cold this coming winter:

1. Keep it clean

Outside of the flu vaccine, nothing you do to keep colds and flu at bay is more effective than washing your hands. Most viruses gain access to your body by hitching a ride on your hands, hopping off at your nose, eyes, or lips, and thus gaining admission to your body. By washing your hands frequently, at least 20 seconds with soap and water, you can eliminate the virus from your hands and nip the virus’s journey in the bud. In the absence of soap and water, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer handy. But make sure the hand sanitizer is comprised of alcohol, not “antibacterial” ingredients. The latter contains chemicals that bacteria and viruses can grow immune to, potentially creating superbugs.

2. Keep your hands away from your face

It’s tough, because most people unconsciously touch their mouth, nose, eyes, and lips hundreds of times a day. But trying to be mindful can reap healthy benefits. Dr. Margarita Rohr of the New York University Langone Medical Center pointed out on CNN that, "Not touching your face greatly cuts your odds of getting sick."

3. Have some yogurt every day

The healthy gut bacteria that yogurt and other probiotic foods (like kefir and kimchi) propagate also, studies have shown, help rev up your immune system against respiratory disease.

4. Add ‘shrooms to your diet

A recent study gave some credence to the belief that mushrooms can help boost the immune system. Participants in the study who ate cooked shitake mushrooms were found to have a stronger immune response then the control group who did not. Mushroom pizza, anyone?

5. Fresh air

Open your window in the winter. Hanging out and sleeping in a stuffy room with no circulating air only increases your risk of catching a virus. By opening your window, you increase air movement and decrease the chance of airborne viruses hitching a ride on you.

6. Keep your distance

This one is pretty obvious, but don’t hang out around sick people. Politeness only goes so far. If someone near you is sneezing or coughing, turn away, or, if you have the room, move away. Viruses can travel up to 20 feet in a sneeze. A simple, “Sorry. I get sick easily,” will suffice to cover your tracks.

7. Get your sleep

Sleep deprivation equals an increased chance of getting sick. More and more, studies are bearing out that the one essential for a healthy life is adequate shuteye. We don’t know the precise reasons why we (or any creature) sleeps, but we do know for sure that when we get enough of it, our bodies and our minds are happier and healthier, and our immune systems are clicking on all cylinders.

8. Irrigate your sinuses

It takes a little getting used to, but add a neti pot to your regular bathroom routine. For the unfamiliar, the neti pot (purchased in most drug stores) is a pot designed to irrigate your sinuses. Pour warm saline water down one nostril, it exits out the other, flowing through your sinuses in between. The exiting water carries with it viral particles that have not yet settled in for the long haul,  potentially helping you avoid illness.

What if, despite all your precautions, you do get sick? If it’s the flu, get to the doctor and see if your doctor will prescribe Tamiflu. If caught within the first 2 days of symptoms, Tamiflu can reduce the duration of the influenza by a full day. In any case, cold or flu, get your rest (no workouts while you’re sick- it weakens the immune system and threatens others with illness), drink liquids (lots of them- thins out the mucous), keep up the probiotics (yogurt, etc.), turn on your humidifier (moist air is better for you than dry air), eat spicy foods (relieves congestion), gargle with salt water (kills germs in your throat and relieves inflammation), take a spoonful of honey (better than non-prescription medicine for soothing the throat and relieving a cough), prop yourself up (let gravity help relieve your head congestion), and yes, momma’s favorite remedy, have your chicken soup (steam, warm salty broth, antimicrobial action- what’s to not like?).

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