The common cold and flu viruses thrive in the winter months; crowds of people inside buildings breathing the same air can make it easier for these viruses to spread. Even if you do get sick, though, taking some common-sense preventive steps can help keep the illness from lasting too long or getting too severe.
Flu and cold viruses can cause severe complications like pneumonia or bronchitis for older adults and those with underlying health conditions. People in this high-risk group should get a flu vaccine each year to prevent illness. You can help protect yourself and others by taking these easy steps:
1. Get a Flu Vaccine
One of the most effective methods to protect yourself against the flu viruses that spread each year is to get a seasonal flu shot. Make an appointment with your doctor early in the flu season (as soon as the vaccine becomes available) to be vaccinated. Flu activity often peaks in January and February, although it can last far into May. According to studies, the flu vaccination can reduce the risk of getting sick with the flu by 70% to 90% in healthy persons. Unfortunately, the flu vaccine does not entirely protect everyone from the virus. Though you may still become sick, the flu vaccine can help to reduce the degree and course of your illness.
2. Wash Hands Frequently
Washing your hands properly is the best way to prevent spreading colds and flu. Be sure to wash your hands frequently, not just when you leave home or after using the bathroom—but also before preparing food, eating, or caring for sick people. It’s also important to wash your hands throughout the day if you touch things that other people have touched, such as doorknobs, keyboards, or toys. Cold and flu symptoms usually last about a week but can linger for as long as three weeks. If you are sick with either the flu or common cold symptoms, be sure to wash your hands often to reduce the chances of passing your infection on to family, friends, or co-workers.
3. Wipe Down Germy Surfaces
To prevent colds and flu, it’s also important to clean germ-covered surfaces. Be sure to wipe down frequently touched surfaces in public places, such as shopping carts and handrails in the grocery store and subway station, doorknobs in the office and school, light switches at home or work, toy boxes at daycare centers, and keyboards at home or work. Disinfectant wipes are often effective, but be sure to read the label first. Some disinfecting wipes can damage certain surfaces, such as painted walls and refinishing finishes.
4. Hands Off Your Face
One of the most important ways to prevent colds and flu is to stop the germs from spreading from your hands to your nose, mouth, or eyes. It’s also helpful to avoid touching your face throughout the day. When you wash your hands, be sure to rub them together for at least 20 seconds. Also, be sure to use warm water because it opens up your pores and kills more germs than cold water. If you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with clean hands, be sure to wash them right away to prevent the germs from spreading to your respiratory system and causing an infection.
5. Drink Plenty of Fluids
Drinking plenty of water is one of the best ways to help ease the cold and flu symptoms. Drinking liquids helps loosen congestion in your nose, sinuses, and throat, so you can more easily cough out germs or clear them with mucus by blowing or sneezing. It also keeps your nasal passages moist to help prevent dry air from irritating your nose and lungs and making them more vulnerable to cold and flu germs. If you get thirsty, it’s probably too late; your body is already low on fluids. Don’t drink beverages with caffeine or alcohol to keep yourself hydrated because they dehydrate you instead.
6. Exercise to Strengthen Your Immunity
Exercise is another important way to help prevent colds and flu. Regular exercise boosts your body’s immunity by supporting your immune system produce natural killer cells, white blood cells that attack germs. Exercise also helps lower stress, affecting how strong your immunity is if you have a stressful job or life situation. However, if you do not get enough sleep at night, you may want to cut back on your exercise because lack of sleep can also lower how well your immunity works.
7. Take Probiotics
Probiotics are live bacteria that are good for your health. They help keep the “good” germs in your intestines strong so they can fight off the harmful, disease-causing germs. You can get probiotics by eating yogurt or other foods with live cultures, such as miso soup and sauerkraut. If you do not eat these foods regularly, you can take a daily probiotic capsule. Probiotics help strengthen your immunity and may help prevent colds or lessen symptoms if you do get one.
8. Buy a Bottle of Hand Sanitizer
Hand sanitizer is a great way to kill germs that may have gotten onto your hands. Use it when you don’t have access to soap and water, such as in the car or at work, after handling money, or before eating snacks from a vending machine. Be sure to also keep hand sanitizer in your desk drawer at work or in your purse, car, or backpack.
9. Eat Healthy Foods
Your immune system is in charge of fighting off germs and infections. Eating healthy foods gives your immune system the building blocks it needs to work at its best. Try to eat a variety of fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables daily. Add fiber to your diet with whole-grain bread, cereals, and crackers. Also, get plenty of protein from lean meat, nuts, and beans to help your immune system fight off infections.
10. Get Plenty of Sleep
Don’t underestimate how much sleep you need to stay healthy. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. If you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system doesn’t have the time it needs to perform all its functions well. Studies show that people who earn less than seven hours of sleep a night are at higher risk for colds and flu.
The above listed are just a few pointers to help prevent colds and flu. Be sure to check with your doctor for any health problems or illnesses you may be at risk for. Good luck and stay healthy!