As the weather becomes colder, we tend to stay inside more. This can increase the risk of spreading and catching a virus. The cold and flu viruses survive better in low humidity, and winter weather tends to be very dry. The cold and flu season can begin as early as October and continue until April, though it is not always predictable. The average adult catches about 2-4 colds per year. The flu is less common, but is more severe. There is no cure for the cold or the flu, but there are ways to prevent them.
Nutrition is key to keeping your immune system strong in order to fight off any infection. A healthy body is more able to fight off the cold and flu viruses. No one nutrient is more important than another in this task. A well-balanced diet is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Ways to boost your immune system:
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Get some rest
- Add exercise to your routine
Besides good nutrition, there are certain steps you can take to help reduce your chances of catching a cold or flu this season.
Ways to prevent a cold or flu:
- Wash your hands regularly – the cold virus is spread by contact.
- Use a tissue – try not to sneeze or cough into your hand. When possible use a tissue, then throw it away immediately.
- Drink lots of fluids – in the dry climate, you may need more than the typical 8 glasses of water a day.
- Get fresh air – in cold weather, central heating can dry you out and make you more vulnerable to cold and flu viruses.
- Cut alcohol consumption – alcohol dehydrates the body.
- Don’t smoke – smoke zaps the immune system and hurts the delicate hairs in your nasal passages and lungs that prevent debris and viruses from entering.
It is also important to know the differences between a cold and the flu as this can change how it is treated.
Cold vs. Flu
Colds come on gradually. Usually they start with a sore or scratchy throat, followed by a runny nose and a mild to moderate cough. You can also experience some muscle pain and mild fatigue. A slight temperature can sometimes be associated with a cold. Symptoms usually last for a few days up to a week.
The flu develops quickly. A sudden, prominent headache, cough, and chills may be the first signs. A high fever (over 102°) is common with the flu and can last about 3 – 4 days. These symptoms rapidly worsen and can lead to extreme muscle aches and exhaustion. These symptoms last longer than a cold. The flu is also more likely to develop into more serious complications.
Remember, there is no cure for the cold or flu and antibiotics can not fight a virus. But you can treat the symptoms and feel better while your body works to fight off the infection.
Ways to Treat a Cold:
- Know when not to treat symptoms – fever is the body’s way of fighting off an infection. A slight fever can sometimes be helpful in the healing process.
- Elevate your head – this can help drain nasal passages to help congestion
- Drink warm liquids – not only will you increase hydration, but warm liquids can soothe inflamed membranes and relive congestion. Teas and chicken soup are not just folk remedies.
- Use a humidifier – this is another way to moisten mucus membranes and prevent dehydration.
- Stay warm and rested – Lying down with a blanket can help the body direct its energy into fighting off the infection.
- Gargle with warm salt water – doing this a few times a day can relieve a sore throat. Throat sprays or lozenges may also help relieve the pain.
- If symptoms persist, or become more sever, see your physician.
Information from: American Dietetic Association, www.EatRight.org; WebMD, Cold & Flu Health Center, www.webmd.com, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov; . Nutrition Education for OCTOBER 2007. Produced by Meals on Wheels,Inc. of Tarrant County by Ashley Netting, Nutrition Intern for Sherry Simon, R.D/L.D. For questions regarding nutrition education contact: Sherry Simon, R.D./L.D., Director of Nutrition Services for Meals On Wheels, Inc. of Tarrant County at 817-336-0912 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.mealsonwheels.org