Cold and flu season is an inevitable drawback of the changing seasons, but it doesn’t have to be if you play it smart and take some necessary precautions.
Although the common cold and the flu can be extremely troublesome, both illnesses are typically not as serious as they are considered self-limiting, which means they eventually fizzle out on their own in 7-10 days.
However, you may need to seek treatment depending on the duration and severity of your symptoms as complications, like bronchitis and pneumonia, are possible.
What is the Difference Between the Common Cold and Influenza?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the common cold usually starts with milder symptoms than the flu, such as a sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches, and/or body aches.
Influenza, or the respiratory flu, tends to have similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to differentiate from the common cold, but flu-like symptoms tend to be more severe and typically always include body aches, chills, excessive tiredness or fatigue, and fever in addition to those mentioned above.
Now that we have a better understanding of the difference between the common cold and the flu, here’s a list of tips to help you avoid both this winter.
1. Get Your Flu Shot
Flu shots are readily available these days and are your number one defense for protecting yourself from getting sick. Peak flu season tends to occur during the winter months, so it’s best to wait until October to get your shot. Keep in mind, however, that it’s never too late to get one because the length of every flu season varies.
2. Sharing is not Caring
The old adage “sharing is caring” definitely doesn’t apply during cold and flu season. Germs are everywhere, but simple changes to your routine can help you avoid getting sick this winter.
Consider the following recommendations:
- Don’t share pens or pencils at work
- Sanitize your office space regularly to include the mouse and keyboard especially if you share a workspace or work in a 24/7/365 work environment
- Cell phones are germ magnets so avoid passing them around and sanitize them regularly with an approved cleaner
- Avoid sharing bowls, plates, utensils, drinks, straws, and/or food
- Resist the urge to double dip or raid the candy dish at family gatherings or holiday parties
- Clean shopping cart handles off before using them (most major grocery stores have sanitizing wipes available in the cart corral section or consider bringing your own)
- Use a piece of toilet tissue to flush the toilet handle after using the restroom in public places and throw it in the toilet as the flush occurs
- After washing your hands, keep the water running and use the towel you used to dry your hands off to turn the faucet handles off and grab the door handle to exit the bathroom just in case someone forgot to wash their hands to avoid re-contaminating your hands
3. Don’t Spread Your Germs (or Others)
Whether you’re feeling sick or not, these simple acts are helpful in preventing the spread of your germs as well as others. First and foremost, wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20-30 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitizer frequently.
Cover your cough or sneeze. The best way to accomplish this is to cough or sneeze into the crease of your elbow to avoid spreading germs left on your hands.
If you are feeling under the weather, stay home to avoid spreading your illness to others or wear a mask if you have no other choice than to venture out. Same goes for a friend or family member that is feeling sick; encourage them to stay home so they can 1) rest and 2) not spread their sickness with others.
Avoid shaking hands with others unless absolutely necessary especially if you’re sick or think you may be getting sick. Consider using an informed greeting instead, such as “I would shake your hand but I’m feeling a bit under the weather” as this will be much appreciated by most people.
4. Steer clear of people that are sick
Hanging around people that are sick definitely increases your chances of catching something.
Although this approach may be impossible for some, make sure you are diligent about washing your hands or using hand sanitizer to kill any of those potential viruses that get transferred via the air and direct contact.
Also, avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose with unclean hands as these are common entry points for germs especially when you’re already around someone who is sick.
5. Stay hydrated, exercise regularly, eat a well-balanced diet, and get a good night’s sleep
In reality, this tip should be the goal throughout the year but it is especially important when the cold and flu viruses are circulating around!
Drinking plenty of water, getting regular exercise, eating a well-balanced diet or supplementing with vitamins if necessary are great ways to boost your immune system.
Additionally, getting at least 8 hours of sleep or more every night is not only rejuvenating but necessary if you’re already sick.
6. Listen to your body and know when antibiotics are appropriate
Coughing, sneezing, a sore throat, and fever are all ways your body is letting you know that you have been infected and need to allow yourself to recuperate.
Contrary to popular belief, the common cold and the flu cannot be cured with antibiotics.
Why? Antibiotics target bacteria…and the common cold and flu are caused by viruses.
In other words, using antibiotics to treat viruses is like taking a placebo. In fact, taking antibiotics when you don’t need them does more harm than good because it increases your chances of developing resistant strands of bacteria.
Taking over the counter medications to treat your specific symptoms is a better place to start. However, if your symptoms worsen or you’re not starting to feel better after 10-14 days consider following up with a healthcare professional.