Eight Tips To Avoid Catching a Cold
A cold won’t kill you, but you’re unfortunate enough to contract one, you may wish it would. The average cold symptoms don’t usually measure up to the misery of the flu, but it can often come close. Sometimes the only way to tell the difference between a cold and flu is the absence of a fever, the defining marker of influenza. Our family practice doctors in Delray Beach, Florida, would like to give you some tips on how to avoid catching a cold.
What is it about winter that makes us more susceptible to the cold virus, even here in South Florida? No one is sure, but it does seem that colds proliferate this time of year, as opposed to the warmer months. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that adults average two or three colds per year, with even more in children. It also notes that most people contract their colds during winter and spring, but that colds are a year-round phenomenon. They’re the main reason people miss school and work, according to the CDC.
Theories on winter colds
In the last few years, researchers have been studying why we seem to catch more colds this time of year, and have suggested several possible explanations. One theory has to do with the presence of colder, less-humid air in winter. Rhinoviruses—the culprit in the common cold—thrive in temperatures lower than the normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees. In addition, drier, heated air tends to dehydrate the nasal mucus our bodies use as a defense mechanism against the cold virus.
One psychological explanation is that colds are your body’s way of telling you to take it easy and get some rest. There may be some basis to this theory because, in days past, winter was a time to hibernate indoors, cut back on activity, get lots of sleep, and wait for warmer weather to begin planting, tending, and harvesting crops. Our ancestors didn’t have electric lights, smartphones, and a 24-hour work culture driving us to skimp on rest and sleep.
Regardless of why they tend to be more prevalent, there are several ways to avoid getting colds this time of year.
- Wash your hands often
This is the single best way to avoid catching a cold. You should wash your hands thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water. The CDC recommends singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while sudsing up. Do it often during the day, after bathroom breaks, after coming into contact with public surfaces, and before cooking and eating. Most grocery stores these days offer sanitizing wipes upon entering the store. Use them, especially on the cart handles, at least until you can wash your hands thoroughly.
- Don’t touch your face
Unless you know your hands are clean, don’t touch your face, mouth, nose or eyes during cold season. These are the primary ways to introduce the rhinovirus into your body.
- Wipe down infected items
Make liberal use of alcohol-based wipes or sprays on any shared items. This includes computer keyboards, doorknobs or handles, shared phones, and signing pens for credit card purchases. In addition, a recent study highlighted the alarming number of germs, including e-Coli and cold and flu germs, that were found on a place you might never have thought of: ATMs. Bring a sanitizing wipe when you visit your bank.
- Get plenty of sleep
One study found that people who slept less than an average of six hours a night were four times more likely to catch a common cold. During sleep, the body recharges its immune system, and skimping on sleep makes you more susceptible to invading viruses.
According to an Appalachian University study, people who exercise five or more days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes spend 43 percent fewer days with upper respiratory infections. That’s because exercise boosts the circulation of white blood cells throughout the body, allowing it to more easily fight off infections.
- Eat well
Your body needs good fuel to fight off viruses, so be sure to supply it with plenty of protein, fresh fruits, and vegetables to provide the vitamins and minerals it needs to stay healthy.
- Stay hydrated
Because heated air is dry air, it leads to dry out mucous membranes that normally protect us from pathogens like viruses. Use a saline spray to keep your nasal passages moist, use a humidifier indoors, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Also avoid alcohol, which tends to have a drying effect on the body overall.
A University of Wisconsin, Madison, study found that 51 people who practiced mindfulness meditation had 51 fewer sick days during the 2012-13 cold-and-flu season than a control group.
If you do contract a cold or the flu, be sure to see a doctor if you have chest pain, a high temperature or a temperature that doesn’t go away in a few days, if your symptoms persist or worsen, or if they seem unusual to you.