Now that November is in full swing, and the leaves are dead and gone, and the chill is permeating the air, our thoughts turn to holiday season dinners, buying gifts for others, and, unfortunately, dreading the arrival of cold and flu season – unless you are already in the throes of one or the other, and don't feel like doing anything but curling up in bed and trying to get some shuteye. Well, even if you are bedridden and feeling somewhat miserable for the moment, try sitting up for a few minutes to read what we have to say about cold and flu, because no doubt it is of concern to you.
Differences Between Flu & ColdBy now, you should know the difference between a cold and a bout with influenza (flu), but just in case you missed school the day that was taught, here's a distinction in brief: although both involve upper-respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different kinds of viruses. They can share several of the same symptoms, such as stuffy/running nose, sneezing, cough, and sore throat, although flu often takes it a few notches higher with chills and sweats, fever, nasty body aches (colds get some, milder body aches at times) and nausea, per webmd.com. Another difference is in how fast or slow they develop – a cold works itself into your world slowly over the course of a few days while the flu acts much quicker, often taking just a few hours to slam home. One other thing – you can catch a cold any time of year, while flu (thankfully?) almost always picks fall and winter to do its thing. Cold prevention is a hit-and-miss proposition, while flu is a bit more predictable – with most of America and much of the rest of the world advised to get annual flu shots specially prepared each year to counteract whatever flu strains have been identified as the biggest threat for a particular year. We'll discuss flu vaccinations in this space sometime later this month.
9 Ways to Reduce Risk of Catching a ColdFor now, let's focus on the do's and don'ts when it comes to avoiding colds and strengthening your immune system. We'll switch back to flu in a blog soon to come:
- Wash your hands, often. Start with whenever you use the restroom, even if it's going in there just to clean something out of your teeth after eating – but especially after you go to the rest room for No. 1 or No. 2. It's amazing how many people neglect or refuse to do this before going back out into the world. Use soap and rub your hands together under warm running water, as rest rooms are incubators for germs, and getting them onto your fingers and into your mouth or eyes is not good. This is how cold viruses get around.
- Be prepared; gather supplies. The worst time to go shopping for cold medicines and supplies is when you have already been nailed with a cold. Think ahead. Stock up on the supplies you need to battle colds. Think decongestants (discuss with your physician, though, if you have high blood pressure), tissues, soap, and hand sanitizer (one for home, one for the office, maybe even one kept in the car). At the grocery, pick up in advance fluids, herbal tea, and comfort foods such as chicken soup, and stick them in a pantry cupboard as a first aid kit for colds.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Always. Every day. Focus on drinking water. Broth and sports drinks can also help. The idea is to thin out mucus, drain sinuses, and provide relief for a runny nose, per webmd.com. Hot herbal tea can help warm your airways, which in turn can alleviate congestion.
- Steer clear of sneezers and coughers. Don't depend on them to be considerate of others and properly cover their germ-shooting sneezes or coughs right at you. Be prepared to turn away – at a minimum hiding or covering your face (that's not being rude; failure to cover up a sneeze or cough, as with the crook of an elbow, is what's downright rude). If seated next to someone sneezing or coughing, such as if you're on a bus or airplane, get up and move, or in the case of an airplane ask a flight attendant for assistance. Don't be shy, but be polite.
- Don't touch your face. At least keep it to a minimum, although scratching a facial itch is pretty much impossible to avoid. The idea is to keep your fingers (often bearing germs) away from your mouth, nose (got that, nose pickers?), eyes, and ears. We know; easier said than done.
- Dissolve zinc lozenges in your mouth. Per health.com, zinc is an essential mineral that can bolster immune system cells. A 2013 analysis of 18 trials involving zinc lozenges found that ingesting them within 24 hours of the onset of a cold can reduce illness duration.
- Flush out your nose. This can be a nightly routine in which you rinse your nose using a neti pot with boiled (and then cooled) salted water. You can also try an over-the-counter nasal irrigator or saline solution. The idea is to clear out viral particles that you might have inhaled during the day, ridding them before they took root inside you, per health.com.
- Use a humidifier. Such a device can put moisture into otherwise dry air, alleviating a sore throat or bad cough. A spoonful of honey can also help with a sore throat, as it is believed to be antimicrobial.
- Add Vitamin C to your daily diet regimen. Vitamin C helps stave off colds. Ditto echinacea.