Does it seem like you can’t make it through the year without getting a cold or the flu? These respiratory illnesses are both highly contagious, but you can take some simple steps to lower your risk of getting sick.
Here at Alpha Internal Medicine, we’re always available to answer your questions, and we’re honored to provide your medical care, but we’re giving you our top seven tips for preventing colds and flu in the hope that we won’t see you for a sick visit this season.
Support your immune system
Like the rest of your body, your immune system needs optimal nutrition to stay healthy, function at its best, and protect you from the viruses that cause colds, flu, and respiratory illnesses.
The immune system is so complex that it needs at least 11 vitamins and minerals to stay strong. That means the best way to support your immune health is to follow a balanced diet that provides the full range of nutrients.
If you’re not sure your diet covers all the nutritional bases, you can fill in the gaps with supplements or ask us to evaluate your nutritional status and give you some diet recommendations.
Practice good health habits
Every time a sick person sneezes or coughs, they propel their germs into the air. You only need to be somewhere in the general area to risk becoming infected. The viruses in one sneeze can travel 19-26 feet, and they move fast. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology clocked germs traveling at 100 miles per hour thanks to the force of a sneeze.
You can also pick up or spread germs through direct or indirect contact. The flu virus lives about 24 hours on a hard surface and several hours in droplets from a sneeze. Although some cold viruses can survive for days, most don’t survive longer than 24 hours.
The bottom line is that any time a sick person touches an object, whether a doorknob, faucet, towel, or table, they pass that virus or bacteria along to anyone who touches the same object.
Here are some healthy habits to avoid getting sick:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after you touch a germ-covered surface
- Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, or nose
- Don’t share plates, glasses or utensils
- Carry disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces in public places
If you’re sick, be sure to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or a cough.
Get your flu vaccination
Flu vaccinations are your best chance for preventing illness. You need a vaccination every year because flu viruses constantly change, and the vaccine is formulated every year based on the known flu strains making the rounds.
If you had the flu previously, your body builds immunity to similar strains, but not to new ones.
Engage in regular exercise
Regular exercise enhances your immune system and may lower your risk of viral and bacterial infections. In one study, people who walked 20 minutes a day, five times a week, had 43% fewer sick days compared with those who exercise one day or less each week.
If you get sick, regular walking may help diminish your symptoms.
Get a good night’s sleep
Getting a full night’s sleep often helps prevent colds and flu. Patients who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep also slows down your recovery if you get sick.
If you have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, we can determine the underlying cause and provide treatment that gets you on the road to restorative sleep.
Disinfect your home when a family member is sick
Be extra diligent about cleaning around your house when a family member is sick. This includes washing sheets, towels, and clothing more frequently and disinfecting toilets and sinks used by the sick person.
Don’t forget to wash children’s toys to prevent germs from spreading.
Stay away from crowded places during peak cold and flu season
While you don’t want to avoid your friends, and you have to go to work, you lower the risk of getting sick if you avoid places where lots of people congregate. On the flip side, if you get sick, stay at home while you’re contagious.
Flu is contagious one day before your symptoms appear and for up to about two weeks, while your symptoms last. If you have a cold, you’re contagious one day before symptoms develop and you can continue to spread the cold for 5-7 days.
If you need a flu vaccination or you come down with a cold or flu and need relief from your symptoms, call Alpha Internal Medicine, or use the online booking feature to schedule an appointment.