It’s that miserable time of year again. No, not tax season (yet)—I’m talking prime time for colds and flu.
You know that a body that’s strong and toned, fueled well, and treated with respect is less likely to “catch cold” than one that’s neglected—which practically goes without saying. But viruses are clever and ever changing. They find a way to get past even the toughest of defenses every now and then. It happens to the best of us.
But while it may not be possible to avoid every germ that can cause sickness, a better understanding of how these common illnesses work may go a long way to keeping you comfortable. Just how much do you know about these bugs?
True or false: It’s called a cold because you get it from being cold.
Colds are illnesses caused by minor viral infection. They are not a direct result of exposure to cold weather.
But—and this is a big “but”—it is true that cool conditions make us more vulnerable to microbial infection.
Recent research has revealed that the viruses that cause colds reproduce rapidly at temperatures slightly lower than human body heat. Particularly during the winter, your nose becomes that perfect environment. When you breathe in cool air, the potential for a live virus to enter your nasal passages and then flourish is greater than usual. Conclusion: To keep from becoming a breeding ground for cold viruses, cover your nose when you are outdoors.
Ironically, indoor heating can also be a contributing factor. That toasty-warm air is contained and recirculated—and shared by more people (more fellow germ-carriers) than fresh, open air is. Add to that the fact that our bodies are already working harder than usual because of the challenges of less sunlight and just plain trying to keep warm, and…
No, it’s not your imagination. Winter in general really does give germs ideal spreading conditions.
True or false: You should see your doctor for antibiotics at the first sign of cold or flu.
Antibiotics won’t work against a cold or flu. That’s because these drugs are designed to fight bacteria, not viruses.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do but suffer, though. If you come down with a minor bug, a little extra self-care can go a long way.
- Congestion and body aches can be caused or worsened by inflammation. Feed yourself right to reduce that effect. That means lots of antioxidant-packed vegetables and minimal sugar and caffeine.
- Nasal congestion (and the coughing or headache that may follow it) may respond to steam and heat. A hot mug of herbal tea, such as peppermint, ginger, or chamomile, may offer just the soothing you need.
- Feeling drained? Please, listen to your body. Allow yourself to settle down and rest.
- Uncle Mort’s hot toddy recipe got it partly right. Warm lemon juice and honey are soothing and can boost your battered immune system. But think twice about adding Mort’s double-shot of whiskey to your mug. A small amount of alcohol may, in fact, have a relaxing effect. But an alcohol-induced slumber tends to be restless and short-lived—and alcohol can also irritate the nasal membranes.
And speaking of traditional family advice…
True or false: Follow Grandma’s guidance, “Feed a fever, starve a cold.” (Or should it be your mother-in-law’s version, “Feed a cold, starve a fever”?)
Answer: False, either way.
Skipping meals isn’t a great idea anytime—and when fighting off a bug, your body needs good fuel more than ever. Even if you have little appetite, a light meal can help. Think vegetable soup, for example—warm, satisfying, vitamin-rich, and high in fiber.
Don’t throw out all traditional wisdom, though. “Drink plenty of fluids” is golden advice. Particularly if you have a mild fever, you risk becoming dehydrated, so keep your system supplied with plenty of H2O. Orange juice? Yes, an extra shot of vitamin C can be good thinking, provided it’s pure juice, without added sweetener.
True or false: Getting a shot can prevent the flu.
Answer: True, to a degree.
There are many known strains of influenza. Each year’s vaccine is tailored to protect against the handful of strains that evidence suggests will be most active during the coming season. Although your chances of getting the flu decrease with immunization, it is possible to be sickened by a different strain of the flu not included in that mix.
Take heart. That’s not a failure of science. Instead, think of it as a sign of how adaptable the microbe world is—and a gentle reminder to keep washing your hands frequently to reduce your exposure, whether you’ve had the shot or not.
Of course, that leads us to another question: Should you have the flu shot?
Sorry, no simple true/false here. Whether to get the flu vaccine is a highly individualized decision that demands a one-on-one talk with your health professional. Your age, your general health, your immune health, your lifestyle, whether you’ve recently recovered from another challenge or procedure, and whether you have other known conditions should all be part of that discussion.
No doubt, winter illnesses can be challenging. But armed with knowledge, you can face the coldest part of the natural year with good physical health and, yes, even grace and elegance. I’m ready to help you personalize your seasonal wellness strategy—just get in touch here: Contact Page. And keep looking forward, always…after all, spring is less than two months away!