Avoiding Flu and Colds: A Special Report
What is a Cold?
A cold is caused by a virus. It is the rhinovirus. Like many viruses it mutates. There are hundreds of strains of the common cold and any one can be around at one time.
Viruses have no cure. But, you can treat the symptoms and that is what happens when you get a cold – you look for products that will help relieve whatever symptoms you are feeling at the time. So, how do you know that you have a cold?
One way to know what you have 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 doing it but you don’t feel bad enough to have 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 ones is active at any one time. Unlike the cold, certain ones 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, it may be a lesser duration. If you are elderly, 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.
Usually the simplest ways to avoid a cold or the flu is the best. For one they cost less, are milder to your system and are readily available. Some of them you might have in your kitchen or pantry right now but didn’t know it.
Honey – This is the bee’s knees so to speak. It is created by the black and yellow beauties and contains their 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.
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 artificial sweetener, honey, agave nectar or nothing at all.
Supplements – First, a word of warning: As with all supplements consult your doctor 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 lozenges. Your doctor can tell you how much to take.
Essential oils – An essential oil is a concentrated form taken from an herb or plant. They can be found in health food stores. Creating a steam inhalation from them 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.
Water – It is the simplest remedy yet. The body is mostly composed of water. It needs to maintain a certain level of hydration inside and out to stay healthy. Drink as much water as you can each day (at least eight glasses) to flush the body of toxins and promote total health.
You are what you eat, in more ways than one. All of these supplements 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 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 vitamins, fats and minerals each day to boost the body’s defenses.
Here are some foods to add to your diet to help with all of this. Those vegetables include those in the onion family: garlic, leeks, onions, green onions. They all contain a compound called allicin. They are known for their anti-infective 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 also helps to detoxify the body.
Here are some tasty ideas that you can make to enjoy these benefits without having to take too many supplements.
Tomato soup – Add sour cream for a more creamy and thicker taste; lycopene is an antioxidant in tomatoes to help boost immunity
Vegetable soup – Make your own; add all of the above mentioned veggies plus lean meat for a totally satisfying and healthy stew
Whole grain breads – Complement any meal of soup; contain lots of fiber
Onion soup – Can be quite tasty. Try the French onion recipe
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 are going to successfully avoid getting sick this winter. 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
Fats – foods made with Trans fats or that contain a lot of saturated fat
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 – It is the single best thing that you can do. After all activities wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. 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 else. You still want to be able to move around freely so don’t wear too much heavy apparel.
Stress can do a body bad. 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 those all-nighters was okay in college but even then there were consequences. A few sniffles may not have bothered you then but now that you are older, 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 so you are better able to handle the stresses of job and family without all the bad 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 this qi at different junctions in the body. Therapies like acupuncture and massage 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 have to 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. This is easier for the flu because they won’t want to get out of bed. 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? Well, for people who are elderly, infants or have a compromised immune system, the flu shot reduces your chances of getting the strains around by boosting your antibodies. The shots do not give you the flu because they use inactivated (dead) virus. Children or adults who are allergic to eggs should not get the shot. For them, there is a nasal spray that is preservative free.
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. You are not guaranteed not to every 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.