Posted on Dec 27, 2019, 7 p.m.
Just like clockwork that time of year has begun again where the common cold and flu come around bringing runny noses, coughs, aches, fever, and just misery in general along with them wherever they make appearances.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, there are steps we can take to help prevent getting sick as well as shorten duration and lesson the less than appealing symptoms to help us make it through the dreaded cold and flu season.
The common cold is basically a bunch of symptoms caused by about 200 different viruses floating around, the most common being rhinovirus, that do their damage by invading human cells to take over the machinery and replicate their nastiness rapidly.
Rhinoviruses are inactive until we breathe the little buggers in or they get on our hands to be transmitted to our mucous membranes, once their they will attach to cells and start replicating and then our immune system begins to try and kill of the invading virus.
There tends to be an 8-12 hour incubation period with most symptoms begin to peak in about 72 hours after exposure, most are gone within a week or so, although some may suffer for longer.
Nasty respiratory viruses tend to prefer cold dry air, which explains the links between winter and cold/flu season. They tend to survive much better in the cold, surviving longer and being more likely to be able to invade our cells in it. Another reason for getting sick this time of year is that we are indoors more and come into closer contact with one another more than typical such as holiday travels and parties that also expose us to more chances of virus spread through coughing, sneezing, and general germiness. Children are also little germ factories, being the largest vectors for viruses at school where they cross infect each other on a wide scale with poor hygiene habits of rubbing noses, openly sneezing/coughing and then bringing all that loveliness home.
While colds are an annoyance the flu on the other hand is a more serious issue, and it is caused by the influenza virus that has many types of strains causing more severe symptoms of fever, chills, body aches, and even pneumonia. Among the young, elderly, as well as those with medical conditions and compromised immune systems the flu also brings with it the risk of hospitalization and even death.
It appears as if the flu virus changes every year but mostly has a seasonal pattern of October to January in America. Flu is transmitted in the same ways that a cold is through surfaces and airborne respiratory droplets but pack more severe symptoms.
To avoid falling prey to these viruses and navigating the symptoms there are some basics to try your best to follow suggested by Heather Moday, MD, an allergist and immunologist published in MBGHealth:
Keep your surfaces clean to try and remove those respiratory droplets that land on everything. Key spots are handles, pens, and counter tops among others. Antibacterial sprays aren’t really needed as they add to resistance, rather try white vinegar in a spray bottle and some 3% hydrogen peroxide in another, then spray with vinegar letting it rest for a few minutes before wiping away to spray with the hydrogen peroxide and wipe that away. This can discolour fabrics so use caution.
You may want to consider carrying around some alcohol based wipes/gel with you to wipe down door handles, faucets, railings, arm rest, gym equipment, or anything that your hands frequently come into contact with. Alcohol is the most effective and least toxic thing you can use, but it can be drying, make sure to wash your hands after use.
Make sure that you wash your hands after using the bathroom, before meals and try not to touch your mouth, nose, eyes, and ears after shaking hands, playing with pets, and playing with children, especially if they may be ill. If you frequent public transportation it may even be worth investing in some surgical masks to up your anti-sick game.
It may be tough but try to avoid being in situations/places where you will be exposed to sick people. Being in any crowded environment during cold and flu season just sets you up for getting sick yourself, this includes public transportation, parties, bars, daycare, schools, hospitals, and hanging out at your friends place that was just sick. You don’t need to become a hermit just use your best judgement and avoid hugging, kissing, sharing beverages as much as possible, most people will understand and may be doing the same.
Staying well hydrated helps keep your membranes hydrated which helps to rinse away viruses and allergens. Keeping your home, especially your bedroom humidified also helps if you have dry heat or the humidity drops below 35%, which will help to make the body less habitable to viruses.
Most people tend to get over colds quickly, but during this time of year you may want to give the immune system all the help it can get. You can do this by trying to get enough sleep and keeping your stress levels in check, these are the reasons most people end up getting sick in the first place. When run down cortisol levels increase and the immune system gets a bit slack making us more vulnerable to getting sick, this also applies to overextending ourselves and drinking too much alcohol.
There are some potent nutrients that are involved with the immune system/immunity, but zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin C may be the most important this time of year. Humans need a steady supply of vitamin C, but the body is not able to produce it, and this time of year stress makes it get used up faster. Zinc deficiency is common, but it plays an important part in immunity making it worth consuming more foods that are rich in zinc. This time of year has less sun, and we are inside more, it is worth the effort to spend some time to soak up some sunshine or talk to a certified medical profession to find out about supplements.
Lastly, studies show that enjoying a sauna 1-2 times a week can help to decrease the chances of becoming sick, which is most likely due to the increases in body temperature. Additionally saunas may help to increase detoxification capacity.
While there is no guarantee to not get sick, following these steps and using our best judgement will make it less likely that we will get sick, and will help to get us back on our feet again quicker.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.