It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Minus two words…the dreaded “cold” and the even more dreaded “flu”. ‘Tis the season for sickness! With the winter wonderland and all the holiday delights come some unwanted visitors in the form sicknesses. Illnesses run ramped this time of year and we’re about to kick off some of the sickliest months of the year. Not to be a Debbie Downer during the holiday season but unfortunately, it’s tough to stay healthy out there. As the temperature drops, and the flu and cold season rages on, more individuals will be falling ill. Luckily, there are ways to fight back against cold and flu viruses so that you’ll be in good shape during the holiday season.
The holiday season — the period that begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Year’s Day — is a super busy and sometimes stressful time. With holiday parties, shopping, and family get-togethers, the last thing we want is to get sick. Unfortunately, the holidays are a prime time to feel crappy. Cold and flu viruses are always around, at least according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Catching a cold or the flu during the holidays is not only a pain but also very common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Common colds are the main reason that children miss school and adults miss work” each year.
Why is winter/holiday season so popular for sickness? Even though there’s no definitive answer as to why colds and the flu are so common during winter months, there is a main reason people are more susceptible. That’s because more time is spent indoors, and in large groups, which makes it easier for viruses to spread from person-to-person.
It sounds alarming but, while most colds tend to go away by themselves, every year, the flu kills an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people worldwide.
Common Cold vs. Flu
First, let’s distinguish between the common cold and the flu, because the viruses that cause these do not necessarily behave the same way. According to Medial News Today, most of the time, the common cold manifests with a trilogy of symptoms: sore throat, blocked nose, and cough. There are more than 200 viruses that can cause the common cold, but rhinoviruses are by the far the most common culprits. Interestingly, around a quarter of people infected with a common cold virus are lucky enough not to experience any symptoms at all.
On the other hand, The flu is caused by the influenza virus, of which there are three types: influenza A, influenza B, and influenza C. Common colds and flu share many symptoms, but an infection with influenza often also manifests with a high temperature, aching, and cold sweats or shivers — a good way to tell the two apart. The CDC monitors flu activity closely. Influenza can occur at any time of year, but most cases follow a relatively predictable seasonal pattern.
The first signs of influenza activity usually start around October, according to the CDC, and often peak at the height of winter. But some years, flu outbreaks can stick around and last until May. The peak month for flu activity in the seasons spanning 1982–1983 to 2015–2016 was February, followed by December, March, and January. Today, between 9.2 million and 35.6 million cases of flu arise each year in the United States, according to the CDC. Flu is responsible for around 140,000–710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000–56,000 deaths annually.
The bad news is that your chances of catching a cold this winter are very high. In fact, the CDC estimates that adults have two to three colds each year.
When To See A Doc
According to the CDC, you should call your doctor if you or your child has one or more of these conditions:
- symptoms that last more than 10 days
- symptoms that are severe or unusual
- if your child is younger than 3 months of age and has a fever or is lethargic
You should also call your doctor right away if you are at high risk for serious flu complications and get flu symptoms such as fever, chills, and muscle or body aches. People at high risk for flu complications include young children (younger than 5 years old), adults 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. Your doctor can determine if you or your child has a cold or the flu and can recommend treatment to help with symptoms.
Although the stats are grim, with the help of Healthline.com and Health.com, we have put together some top tips that might protect you from getting sick this flu season.
- Eat your fruits and vegetables
Green, leafy vegetables are rich in vitamins that help you maintain a balanced diet — and support a healthy immune system. Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables can help support your health!
- Get Vitamin D
Reports indicate that many Americans fall short of their daily vitamin D requirements. Deficiencies in vitamin D may lead to symptoms such as poor bone growth, cardiovascular problems, and a weak immune system.
Foods that are good sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, mushrooms, salmon, canned tuna, and beef liver. You can also buy vitamin D supplements at your local grocery store or pharmacy. Choose supplements that contain D3 (cholecalciferol), since it’s better at raising your blood levels of vitamin D.
- Get Exercise
Staying active by following a regular exercise routine — such as walking three times a week — does more than keep you fit and trim. According to a study published in the journal Neurologic Clinicians, regular exercise also:
- keeps inflammation and chronic disease at bay
- reduces stress and the release of stress-related hormones
- accelerates the circulation of disease-fighting white blood cells (WBCs), which helps the body fight the common cold
- Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is extremely important if you’ve been exposed to a virus, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Healthy adult participants who slept a minimum of eight hours each night over a two-week period showed a greater resistance to the virus. Those who slept seven hours or less each night were about three percent more likely to develop the virus after exposure.
- Skip the Alcohol
New research shows that drinking alcohol can damage the body’s dendritic cells, a vital component of the immune system. An increase in alcohol consumption over time can increase a person’s exposure to bacterial and viral infections.
- Ditch the Stress
For years, doctors suspected there was a connection between chronic mental stress and physical illness. Finding an effective way to regulate personal stress may go a long way toward better overall health.
- Drink green tea
For centuries, green tea has been associated with good health. Green tea’s health benefits may be due to its high level of antioxidants, called flavonoids. According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, several fresh-brewed cups a day can lead to potential health benefits.
- Consider Getting a Flu Vaccine
We’re not going to dive into this one too deep. Vaccinations are a person choice, but there is some research that suggests a flu shot can help.
- Practice Good Hygiene
Limiting your exposure to illness by avoiding germs is key to remaining healthy. Here are some other ways to practice good hygiene:
- Shower daily.
- Wash your hands before eating or preparing food.
- Wash your hands before inserting contact lenses or performing any other activity that brings you in contact with the eyes or mouth.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds and scrub under your fingernails.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Carry an alcohol-based sanitizer for on-the-go use. Disinfect shared surfaces, such as keyboards, telephones, doorknobs, and remote controls.
- Keep It Personal
Flu viruses can generally survive on surfaces for 24 hours, according to the National Health Service. That leaves plenty of time for germs to spread among family members. Just one sick child can pass an illness to an entire family in the right setting.
To avoid sharing germs, keep personal items separate. Personal items include:
- drinking glasses
Wash contaminated items — especially toys that are shared — in hot, soapy water. When in doubt, opt for disposable drinking cups, utensils, and towels.
- Wash Your Hands
Each time you shake someone’s hand, wash yours. But don’t stop there—you want to lather up your hands as much as possible. Running lots of water over your hands will dilute any germs and send them down the drain, and soap will help slough off the germs quicker.
- Don’t Touch Your Face
Your nose and your eyes are the most common places for germs to get into your body, so it’s best to avoid touching your face at all
- Keep Your Distance From Sick People
If you do have to interact with people who are sick, make sure to be vigilant about washing your hands and not touching your face.
- Quit Smoking
Smoking increases the risk of infections by making structural changes in the respiratory tract and decreasing immune response, according to a study of smokers and infection published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2004.
- Don’t Share Food or Drinks
Double-dippers may be passing germs to those who eat after them so ditch the communal snacks when cold and flu season is in full swing. Don’t share drinks with anyone else—it’s just not worth it.
The truth is that most secrets to good health aren’t secrets at all, but common sense. That said, it’s a perfect time of year to brush up on health tips. Viruses are present all year, but there are ways to prepare for cold and flu season and to reduce the chances of becoming sick during this festive time of year. While there’s no way to guarantee complete immunity, these practical tips could be your saving grace until spring! Be well😊