The best way to deal with colds and flus is not to get them in the first place. That isn’t always possible – no, not even with flu shots – but there are a few things you can do to minimize your chances of coming down with a cold or flu.
Basic cold and flu prevention tips
- When you’re out and about, avoid touching your face, and always wash your hands just before doing so. Since your hands are the most likely part of you to get germs on them, not putting them near your nose, mouth, eyes or ears reduces the chance they’ll get inside you where they cause trouble. When you do need to put them near your face – eating, washing your face, etc. – wash them first. This is especially important if you’ve been touching people, as in handshaking. And especially if those people are kids.
- Avoid getting close to kids. Okay, it sounds harsh, but I think those of you who spend lots of time with kids will back me up: because their immune systems are still developing, they catch and pass on everything. If there’s no particular reason for you to be around kids, don’t be. If you are around them, there is nothing wrong with discouraging wet kisses, which are one of the best ways to pass a bug. Just tell them you don’t want them to get sick, and make a game out of dry kisses or even air kisses.
- Drink water a lot. Water helps flush bugs on through. With any luck, you might shove flu and cold viruses right on out before they take root.
- Steam! Studies have shown that people who use saunas are less likely to get colds. Researchers also believe that when your sinuses are dried out (as happens in cold weather), you’re more vulnerable to viruses. Take a sauna or a nice steamy bath, or if you have an open floor plan you can even boil some water on the stove and let it steam up your home a little. You can also run boiling or very hot water into a bowl or basin (bathroom sinks are perfect for this), lean over it, and drape a large towel over your head and the bowl or basin to keep the steam in. (This is also great for your skin, by the way.)
- Get exercise. Exercise helps flush out toxins, much like water. Anything that works up a bit of sweat – even chores – can be helpful.
- Don’t miss out on sleep. Sleep lets your body repair itself. Too little of it, and your immune system is compromised.
- Meditation. Seriously, research indicates that when you relax, your immune system gets a boost.
- Stop smoking. Smokers’ immune systems are more vulnerable to viruses. If you’ve been trying to come up with reasons enough to quit, maybe this one will help.
- If you feel a cold coming on, go home and rest. It’s amazing what a difference napping – or at least, sitting around doing nothing – makes when you first start developing symptoms. Combine this with lots of fluid and the foods recommended below. Even if it’s too late for rest to prevent a full-blown cold or flu, I find this tip reduces how bad it’ll be and how long it’ll last.
- Don’t rely on flu vaccines alone. Flu vaccines can be very helpful, but they don’t prevent colds, and they only prevent certain strains. Just because you got a flu shot does not mean you won’t benefit from following other prevention tips.
Foods that help
- Someone once told me that whenever you feel a cold coming on, you should make a bowl of broth from garlic and onion. It can have other ingredients, as that particular recipe does, but the main thing is to get some garlic, onion and steam into you all at the same time. Ginger also boosts garlic’s antiviral powers.
- Shiitake mushrooms boost your immune system.
- Vitamins A, C and E help your immune system fight off viruses. You probably already knew citrus fruits and veggies like broccoli and carrots are rich in these, but so are almonds. Don’t like almonds? What about almond milk? Apricots, dried or fresh, are loaded with vitamins.
- Supplements, particularly of vitamins E and C may be necessary if you already feel a cold coming on. You can often get enough of C from your diet if you try, but E is harder to come by, and if you’re already fighting a virus, both in higher quantities than you can get from eating healthy will benefit you. Also, “Airborne” and other powdered drink supplements are more expensive and less useful than taking the equivalent of vitamin C in tablet form. (Vitamin C can be found at Target and any grocery store, and it’s cheap. If you prefer drinking your vitamin C, get it in pure powdered form at a health food store and add it to a beverage.)
Already got a cold or flu?
For some reason, old-fashioned antihistamines can actually help reduce cold symptoms both in terms of severity and how long they last. Zinc lozenges also seem to reduce the duration of colds, but be careful not to get more than 50 milligrams of zinc per day – after that, it can actually interfere with your immune system.