What you need to know about the cold and flu season

The cold and flu don’t have to derail your winter. The key is taking preventive measures and knowing how to respond when you do feel under the weather.

Telling the difference.

There are many overlapping symptoms between the common cold and the flu. So how can you distinguish? It boils down to the severity of the symptoms and their duration. A cold may be uncomfortable, with the sore throat, constant sneezing, and runny nose, but the flu will include body aches that make you feel like you’ve been hit by a train. The flu will also knock you down for about two weeks, while a cold can be licked in two days.

Debunking myths.

First, a daily vitamin supplement does not protect you from the cold or flu. You may be able to lessen the severity once you catch something, but supplements do not prevent you from contracting it. Second, you can’t catch a cold simply from being cold or going out with wet hair. The cold and flu are caused by viruses and bacteria that you have to come in physical contact with, through touch or airborne particles.

An ounce of prevention.

Avoid others who are sick. Wash your hands regularly. Sneeze into your elbow or shoulder, not into your hands. Getting plenty of rest will help keep your immune system ready to respond when it is needed.

Vigorous activity has been proven to raise the body’s T cells, a type of white blood cell that fights off infection for six to eight hours at a time. Working out for 20 to 30 minutes first thing every morning can boost your immune response for the rest of the day.

Last but not least, get an annual flu shot. You may have received a flu shot in the past and still caught the flu. That’s because flu strains are always changing, and we’re making our most educated guess as to what the three or four most common strains will be each year. Sometimes we miss the mark slightly, so the shot isn’t as effective. But the benefits are cumulative as you are exposed to more and more strands over time. That’s why you want to get a flu shot every year.

A pound of cure.

If you think you have the flu, see your physician as soon as possible. He or she can prescribe medication to combat it if you’re seen within the first 48 hours.

If you catch the common cold (and you don’t have other health issues), there is no point in going to the doctor. The best remedy is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Take Tylenol or Advil for pain and fever, Mucinex for congestion, and a spoonful of buckwheat honey for coughs. Antioxidants found in some natural foods, like tomatoes, help round up free radicals, resulting in faster recovery.

Finally, do yourself and your coworkers a favor by staying home from work, please. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that values attendance over productivity, but we need to challenge that stigma. If you rest and take care of yourself at the onset by missing one or two days of work, you’ll get well and be fully productive a lot sooner. That’s much better than struggling through only to get worse and miss three or four days later. More importantly, colds and flu are highly contagious, so staying home limits your exposure to others.

Please feel free to contact either your family physician or me if you have concerns. Have a healthy and happy winter.