A Practical Guide to Avoid Catching the Flu This Winter
When we think of winter we have visions of skiing, snowboarding, making snowmen, drinking hot chocolate, warm fires in the evening and many other comforting thoughts are welcomed. Winter also brings a chance of illness that are not so much fun; colds and flu.
If you want the fun without the glum, then listen up. Some people think that colds and flu are just a fact of life and expect to have them overtake them like a thief in the night. Statistics say that adults contract around seven colds a year. But, you don’t have to be a statistic. Colds and especially the flu lead to lost wages and medical bills.
Who would want to endure that for any length of time? If you want to increase your odds of beating cold and flu season this year, keep reading. You will find out how to distinguish colds from flu symptoms and also how to do your best to avoid getting either during the peak season. So, put aside the tissues and let’s get started.
A LITTLE INFORMATION…
When you are feeling bad, have the sniffles, you may think that you only have a cold but do you really? And, if you think you have the flu because you wake up with a stuffed up head, is that really the reason? Colds and flu strains do share a few commonalities but knowing the difference can aid in faster recovery times and also proper medical care.
What is a cold?
A cold is caused by a virus; specifically the rhinovirus. Like many viruses it mutates. There are hundreds of strains of the common cold and any one can be roaming around at one time.
Viruses have no cure. However, you can treat the symptoms. Even though treating the symptoms won’t actually help the cold to go away faster, it will help you feel relieved. Actually, letting a cold run its course can help your body build the immunity to more colds. So, how do you know that you have a cold?
One distinction is the severity of the symptoms. A cold may start with a sniffle and progress but usually you can still work and function in your life each day. You may feel miserable going through those daily rituals but you don’t feel bad enough to stay home and barricade yourself in your bedroom.
Here are some of the most common symptoms you might experience with a cold:
Congestion (head and/or chest)
Runny nose (stuffiness too from swollen sinuses)
Coughing (dry cough or one that is productive, moving congestion out of your body)
Itchy nose, eyes and throat
Fever (more common in children)
If you have any one of these symptoms, start right away treating them.
What is the flu?
Flu is short for influenza. It is also caused by a virus. There are many strains and researchers work to try to identify which virus is active at any one time. Unlike the cold, certain strains are more prevalent each year.
The flu, like the common cold, is a respiratory illness but with more severe symptoms. Here are some of the symptoms that they share:
Coughing (productive or dry)
The flu generally comes on more quickly than a cold. The symptoms seem to hit you all at once. Some symptoms that the flu doesn’t share with colds:
Fever and chills
Body aches and pains
Exhaustion (you really feel worn out and like you have to rest; hard to get up)
With the flu, sufferers always present with a fever and it is much higher than the low grade fever that may be seen in those with a cold. The symptoms are strong right from the beginning, running their course in about a week. If you are healthy, you may experience a lesser duration. If you are older, immuno-compromised or a child, the effects may last longer.
Those who have contracted the flu are also likely to have some nausea and vomiting from time to time. If any of these symptoms are present see your doctor. They can diagnose your condition and offer a course of treatment for you based on your medical history and symptoms.
Sometimes the simplest ways to treat a cold or the flu is the best. For one they cost less, are milder to your system and are readily available. You might have many of these items in your kitchen or pantry right now but didn’t know how helpful they can be for those colds and flu symptoms.
Honey – This is the bees knees so to speak. It is created by the black and yellow beauties and the honey itself contains the bees immunity as well. At the start of cold and flu season, taking a teaspoon full (or a tablespoon if you really like it) every day can help. It has been revered for centuries for germicidal, antiseptic, and immune boosting properties. Raw honey is the best but make sure you never give raw honey to a child under 1 year of age.
Herbal tea – Herbs have long been used for medicinal purposes. Many of our modern medicines came from studying the effects of herbs on the body. For prevention of colds and flu, try: green tea, Echinacea and any tea that contains vitamin C and zinc. All of these are known for their effects in boosting immunity. Vitamin C and green tea are powerful antioxidants that can help reduce the oxidative stress on the body caused by free radicals. To increase the effects and reduce the calories, sweeten your tea with honey or nothing at all. You don’t want to add sugar which can have negative effects on your immune system and artificial sweeteners are not good for your body.
Water – It is the simplest remedy yet. The body is composed of 60% water. Our bodies need to maintain a certain level of hydration inside and out to remain healthy and functioning properly. Drink as much water as you can each day (calculate the amount by taking your body weight divided in half and using that number in ounces to figure the need for your individual body) to flush the body of toxins and promote total health. Sip room temperature water throughout the day.
Supplements – First, a word of warning: As with all supplements consult your medical professional first before taking them. There is such thing as too much of a good thing. The supplements you are looking to choose are those that are instrumental in boosting the immune response in your body: Vitamin A, C, Zinc (may be in the form of lozenges). Your medical professional can give you the correct dosages.
Essential oils – An essential oil is a concentrated form of an herb or plant. They can be found in health food stores. Creating a steam inhalation from essential oils can help to keep the sinuses and nasal passages open and clear. You might use it after a long day out in the cold or if you feel a sniffle coming on.
You are what you eat, in more ways than one. Teas and herbs may work but they work better if your body is healthy and that means choosing the right foods. A body that is full of fast food, processed foods, additives and preservatives is not going to fight off an invasion by cold or flu viruses as well as one that has received the necessary proteins, vitamins, fats and minerals each day to boost the body’s defenses.
Here are some foods to add to your diet to help fight and remedy the cold and flu symptoms.
Vegetables, especially those in the onion family: garlic, leeks, onions, green onions. They all contain a compound called allicin. They are known for their anti-infectious properties. Garlic has also been known to reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Foods that contain vitamin C boost immunity. These include most citrus fruits, bell peppers, kale and cauliflower. The fiber found in cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts also help to detoxify the body.
Here are some tasty ideas that you can make to enjoy these benefits without having to take too many supplements.
Chicken soup – Good old fashioned chicken soup really is a good way to help with a cold or flu. According to the Mayo Clinic, “
“Chicken soup might help relieve cold and flu symptoms in two ways. First, it acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the movement of neutrophils — immune system cells that participate in the body’s inflammatory response. Second, it temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus, possibly helping relieve congestion and limiting the amount of time viruses are in contact with the nose lining.”
Making your own chicken broth is easier than you think. Take a chicken carcass, add it to a soup pot, cover it with water. Add some chopped onions, celery and carrots. Simmer for several hours. You can also use your crockpot. Afterwards, remove the carcass, strain off the vegetables, pick any left over meat and add to the broth. You can either freeze the broth for later use or make your soup by adding your ingredients.
Tomato soup – Make your own by adding organic strained tomatoes to organic vegetable or chicken broth with some spices. If you prefer the thicker creamier version, add some organic whole milk or cream. Tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene that will help boost immunity.
Vegetable soup – Make your own; add veggies such as onion,garlic, leeks, bell peppers, kale, broccoli or cauliflower. Use a homemade vegetable or chicken broth base for a satisfying and healthy soup.
Onion soup – Can be quite tasty. Add sliced onions and spices to beef, vegetable or chicken broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for a couple of hours. Add grated Parmegiano-Regianno cheese.
Soups and stews are big during the winter because they are filling and warm but don’t add a lot of calories. Since you are moving less in winter that is good for weight management as well as fighting off colds and the flu.
There are also some foods that you might want to avoid if you want to successfully stay away from winter illness. Unhealthy foods can increase your chances of illness. We all have comfort foods or things we like to eat. Reduce how often you eat them and the portion size to enjoy them.
Refined sugars – baked goods, anything made with white flour; foods high in sugars provide empty calories and lead to unstable blood sugar levels. Additionally, these foods fill you up without the necessary nutrients you need to keep your body working at optimal levels.
Fats – Foods made with Trans fats or Hydrogenated oils should not be eaten at all because of the risk of heart disease. These fats also harm your body and it’s ability to fight off germs.
Germs can’t invade your body if they are dead. Cleanliness is one preventative measure that everyone can manage. Germs live on surfaces and in the air. Keeping clean is not easy but necessary so that one person who is sick doesn’t infect the entire office or home. Public places are also big on germs so be careful and prepared.
Hand washing – This is the number one single best thing that you can do to prevent illness. After all activities, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. Make it a rule for yourself and your family to wash hands as soon as you are home from school, office, shopping and other activities. For proper hand washing, place a dollop of soap on your hands. Wash for twenty seconds, cleaning under nails and between fingers. Rinse and dry thoroughly.
Disinfecting – When someone is sick in your home, clean surfaces with an approved disinfectant. Spray and wipes work well. Wipes are good for surfaces and spray is good for surfaces and air. Be sure to allow a certain amount of kill time (according to cleaner directions) on the surface.
Hand sanitizers – They are all the rage these days. They are great in a pinch when there is no soap and water around but they are not a replacement for it. These sanitizers actually strip the oil from your hands and can leave bad bacteria behind which is what you don’t want. Use them sparingly and wash your hands as soon as you can.
Get moving this winter to boost your immunity, detoxify your body and stay healthy overall. Winter is not a time to stop activity for the winter but to keep it going so that you can fight off colds and the flu. Here are some suggestions.
Stay active – When it is extremely cold outside, pop in a DVD and have a vigorous workout inside. Be sure the air is not too warm and there is adequate ventilation. Get involved in outdoor activities specific to winter: snowboarding, skiing, snowball fights, ice hockey and ice skating. Before going outside, prepare by warming up indoors. Do your stretching and a few jumping jacks or running in place to warm your body before you get going in the cold weather.
How to Dress – If you are going to be outside, stay warm. Layer your clothing. Keep a wicking layer close to your skin to keep moisture away. Next, try a layer of insulation like fleece to block out the wind. On top, use a waterproof layer that won’t soak up snow, rain, sleet or anything of the elements. You still want to be able to move around freely so don’t wear too much heavy apparel.
Stress. It lowers your immune response and can also lead to engaging in unhealthy habits that further lower your body’s defenses. Combat stress before it gets to the point where it is endangering your health. In winter, the incidence of cold and flu increases when stress is involved.
Sleep – Pulling all-nighters in college was one thing but even then you felt the consequences. But now that you are older, a lack of sleep is detrimental. The body doesn’t have time to repair itself for the next day. Adequate sleep allows restoration and repair within the body and brain to help you are better handle the stresses of job and family without all the negative side effects.
Meditation – Sometimes, our response to situations can increase or decrease our stress level. Practicing meditative techniques is one way to manage stress. Using deep breathing exercises and repetitive phrases can help you reach that level of relaxation that only meditation provides. Set aside time each day to set your mind and body for the day.
Alternative therapies – Ancient Oriental medicine believes that each person has a vital life force called qi (pronounced Chee), that flows through every area of their body. The cause of illness is a blocking of the ‘qi’ at different junctions in the body. Acupuncture and massage therapy can help unblock the flow of energy and help the body to heal itself.
Stay Away from Germs
Avoid sick people whenever you can. You can’t stop coworkers with colds from coming to work anymore than you can keep your kids outside if they get sick. But, you can take steps to see that you are not infected.
At work – Disinfect surfaces. Stay away from those who have colds or the flu. Germs do travel in the air so use an air purifier in your office or cubicle. Spend time outdoors getting fresh air.
At home – You will care for your family members when they are sick but that doesn’t mean that you have to catch it. Confine them, if you can, to certain rooms of the house. Keep the air and the furniture sprayed down with disinfectant. Wash surfaces, clothing and sheets regularly to avoid the spread of germs. Wear a mask if you have to when tending to sick people so you can limit your exposure to the germs.
Shots – Flu shots have come under such controversy. Should you take one or not? It is an individual decision based on you overall health and the health of your family.
Colds and flu are a fact of life but it doesn’t have to be a fact of your life. Reduce your chances of getting infected by using these suggestions for protection. There is no guarantee that you won’t get sick but you can arm yourself with a healthy body and mind to reduce the duration of your symptoms. Taking precautions on your part can also help prevent the spread of the virus to others.