It’s an annoying reality. As the mercury drops, the chances of us getting sick go up. According to flu.gov, approximately 111 million workdays are missed because of the flu. That’s a lot of unproductive time.
But just because the leaves are turning and starting to fall doesn’t mean that we can’t guard ourselves against cold and flu germs that will be prevalent at work, the grocery store, and even at home.
If you’d like to take some preemptive steps to protect yourself from feeling anything from uncomfortable to out of commission, read on for some tips and advice.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
“Both upper respiratory infections (URIs) and influenza can cause coughing, fever, myalgia’s, tiredness, and a sore throat, however the quality and severity of symptoms are usually very different,” says Dr. Bret Sobota, a physician with Adams Hanover ENT and Allergy. “Specifically with influenza one will experience a sudden onset of symptoms within three to four hours. A moderately high fever of 101 to 102 F shortly follows which will persist for three to four days. Headaches and body aches can be severe, unlike in a URI.”
A cold, on the other hand, comes on differently. Sobota states, “A URI usually occurs gradually over a two to three day period and has no or only a minimal headache with a low grade fever (less than 100.5) which dissipates rather quickly in two to three days. When you get influenza you will almost always have severe chest discomfort and tiredness. Both are very minimal with a URI.”
In terms of cold symptoms, Lisa Smith, a CPRN with Family First Health in Hanover, says, “Typically the common cold has mild symptoms such as a runny nose, some congestion, and a sore throat.” Smith recommends that if symptoms start out mildly, it’s generally not necessary to seek medical care. She does warn however, “If they do worsen or persist beyond three days, special testing can be done by your medical provider to confirm a diagnosis.”
So while it’s good to know what type of sickness you’re dealing with, it’s even better not to have to manage it at all.
HOW TO KEEP YOURSELF WELL
To keep yourself healthy there are some basic steps you can take. “Washing your hands and avoiding contact with others who are ill is best,” advi0ses Smith. Sobota agrees, adding, “Get lots of0000 rest, avoid stress, and stay well hydrated.” Omega 3 fatty acid (purified fish oil capsules containing 1 gram of DHA and EPA), and a daily 1,000 IU Vitamin D can also help, according to Sobota.
Another major way, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to avoid the flu is with the traditional flu shot. The nation’s health protection agency states, “Getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu,” also recommending “a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older.”
Another helpful piece of advice from the CDC is to get vaccinated before flu activity begins, since it takes a couple of weeks after your flu shot for your immune system to fully respond. For more information from the CDC, please visit cdc.gov/flu.
In terms of obtaining your vaccination, there are many pharmacies in Hanover where flu shots are available, including several Rite Aid, CVS Pharmacy, Weis Pharmacy, Giant Pharmacy, Target, Walmart, and MedExpress locations. Please check the specific location for times and availability.
Another area we should focus on keeping healthy to avoid cold and flu is our mouth. Dr. David Ross of David Ross Orthodontics, a Hanover-based practice, gives some advice on oral health. “As far as the oral cavity, people should keep their hands and fingers out of their mouth because the mouth has lots of germs that can be transmitted by touch once someone puts their hands in their mouth. As always, everyone should be brushing and flossing two to three times per day no matter if it is flu season or not.”
In the unfortunate event you do catch a cold, or worse, come down with the flu, there are steps to take to get on the mend fast. (See sidebar for additional info.)
“If you do feel that you have influenza then you should be seen promptly and assayed for influenza with a nasal swab,” recommends Sobota. For those that have the flu, both Sobota and Smith advocate for an anti-viral treatment, which they say can reduce the severity and duration of its symptoms.
Also, don’t make things worse. “If you do happen to become ill yourself, stay home from school or work until you are well to prevent the spread of disease to others,” advises Smith. In other words, you don’t need to be an office hero, work will be there when you get back.
WHAT TO BE CAREFUL OF
“In general, scientific evidence has shown no support for any complementary medicine to prevent the flu or relieve its symptoms…and can cause some serious health side effects,” warns Sobota.
“The following have been studied and have not shown evidence to treat influenza: American ginseng, Chinese herbals, Echinacea, Elderberry, Green tea, Vitamin C and D, and Oscillococcinum,” says Sobota, adding, “High dose vitamin C has no effect, but can cause kidney stones and gastritis.”
As way to gain some temporary throat relief, many of us turn to cough drops. But be aware that they too come with some caveats.
“Cough drops have sugar in them. When you use a cough drop it sits in your mouth for a long period of time,” says Ross.
“Cavities form on teeth due to long-term exposure of sugar in the oral cavity that bathe the teeth. Natural bacteria in your mouth eat this sugar and as a by-product produce acid which can eat the enamel of your teeth and causes cavities,” explains Ross. “Therefore, the more long term exposure of your teeth to sugar products, such as cough drops, the higher risk you have for cavities.” While cough drops may be a way to help our throats feel better, just be aware of the toll they may be taking on our teeth.
Ideally, this cold and flu season will come and go without causing much trouble. But if you do happen to find yourself not feeling well, hopefully this information can get you back to good health quickly.
At home remedies for treating influenza:
- Get plenty of rest and reduce stress.
- Drink hot liquids – A mixture of tea and honey.
- Gargle with warm saline 4x a day – Mix ½ tsp. of salt in 8oz. of water.
- Take a warm, steamy shower.
- Apply mentholatum under your nose to open nasal passageways.
- Eat infection fighting foods and foods that bolster the immune system.
- Nasal saline irrigations – Helpful in getting rid of dead cells, bacteria and the viral load.
Source: Dr. Bret Sobota, a physician with Adams Hanover ENT and Allergy