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A Cold-Weather Hassle: Cold and Flu Season

Colds and the flu tend to occur more often in the winter, with experts expecting rates of infection to continue increasing.

This occurs in part because people are indoors more often, allowing respiratory viruses to spread more easily from person to person. It also correlates with a reduction in immune system strength due to cold, dry air, making it easier for viruses to enter respiratory tracts. 

Although your insurance may cover visits to the doctor for common cold and flu symptoms, the viral nature of these illnesses means they don’t respond to antibacterial treatments. Your doctor may be able to prescribe you medication that can reduce the suffering caused by your symptoms, but getting over the cold or flu generally comes down to waiting for the virus to run its course. 

This means that, whenever possible, it’s better to avoid getting sick so you can avoid uncomfortable symptoms and skip the hassle of a doctor’s office visit. 

Tips to Stay Healthy and Sneeze-Free This Season

There is no cure for the common cold or the many strains of flu that you may encounter. It’s also worth noting that, while less worrisome than over the last several years, COVID-19 infection remains a potential risk this winter. 

To help you avoid these and other common seasonal viruses, here are eight tips for sidestepping sickness this winter.

Wash Your Hands Thoroughly and Often 

Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water can help reduce your risk of catching a cold. If you’d rather not count to 20 in your head (or out loud), try singing “Happy Birthday” twice or the alphabet song once — both come out to around 20 seconds. 

To reduce your risk, wash your hands after touching communal public items such as stair railings, escalator buttons, or door handles, and try not to touch your face before you wash your hands. When it comes to handwashing in winter, however, opt for quality over quantity. Too much hand washing and your skin may start to crack and bleed, setting you up for a potential infection.

Keep Your Distance From Those Who Are Sick

Because cold and flu viruses spread via airborne droplets, keeping your distance from others who are sick can help reduce your risk. Although those with a cold or the flu may be infectious before they start showing symptoms, taking care to avoid people who are visibly ill-looking or coughing and sneezing is a common sense way to limit viral spread.

Wear a Mask in Public Spaces

Wearing a mask in public spaces can help limit the transmission of respiratory droplets from person to person, in turn mitigating viruses’ ability to spread. Well-fitting masks can help both you and others avoid common illnesses, and this practice has become commonplace over the past few years. Consider the very low flu levels during the winter of 2020. While this stemmed in part from social distancing, many experts also believe that masks played a role. 

Disinfect Common Areas and Surfaces

Using disinfectant cleaning sprays or wipes to clean common areas and surfaces can help kill the viruses that cause colds and the flu. For example, if you work in an office with a shared eating or breakroom space, regularly disinfecting tables, sink taps, and refrigerator handles can limit viral spread. 

Overuse of disinfectants, however, may cause skin irritation through prolonged contact. This means that if you disinfect the office breakroom sink tap every time you touch it, you could end up with a rash, sores, or other skin issues. 

Avoid Touching Your Face

Airways are the ideal way for respiratory viruses to enter your body. In other words, your nose and mouth are common routes for viral infection. This means that if you come in contact with a surface that has infected droplets, and these droplets get on your hands, you could end up infected if you then touch your face before washing your hands.

If, however, you avoid touching your face and instead wash your hands thoroughly, you may be able to avoid infection. 

Eat Well and Stay Hydrated 

The healthier your body, the better equipped your immune system to fight off potential illness. It’s worth drinking plenty of water and eating well to keep yourself fit and healthy. In practice, this means drinking enough water so that you rarely feel thirsty and taking in enough fluids so your urine isn’t yellow. From a food perspective, a mixed diet that includes regular servings of veggies and fruit can help your body stay healthy.

Maintain Comfortable Humidity Levels  

Winter air is dry and cold, and while indoor heating warms you up, it may not contain enough moisture to prevent your sinuses from drying out, in turn increasing your risk of infection. Consider using a humidifier to help mitigate the impact of dry and cold air. 

In some cases, you may already have a humidifier in your home — for example, if you have hardwood flooring. By turning up the humidity, you can limit sinus dryness. If you don’t have a built-in humidifier, consider purchasing a portable machine for your bedroom that you turn on at night.

Get Enough Rest 

Without enough rest, your body has trouble fending off potential infections. If you’re especially tired or run-down, smaller amounts of infected droplets could lead to colds or the flu, even if you’re taking other precautions. More rest, meanwhile, gives your body more time to replenish your energy.

What Should You Do If You Get Sick? 

Despite all your efforts, you may still get sick this winter. If so, the tips above still apply: Wash your hands often, wear a mask, eat well, and get rest to help ease your symptoms and speed your recovery. Stay as isolated as possible to avoid spreading your infection, as well.

If you find your symptoms worsening, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Although viral infections can’t be cured, your primary care physician may be able to help pinpoint what type of illness you have and prescribe medicine to help manage your symptoms until your cold or flu has run its course.

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