Fall is my favourite time of year; I love spending time with family at Thanksgiving, eating local harvest foods and seeing kids dress up at Halloween. But the one thing I don’t love; the start of the cold and flu season. The intense joy I receive from brightly coloured leaves and breathing fresh, crisp outdoor air can be destroyed the moment I step onto the commuter train and hear someone coughing. I can’t help it, I instinctively cringe and have an urge to move to another car. Then the logical side of my brain kicks in, reminding me of all the preventative steps I take to avoid getting sick.
As a working parent of two kids, it is inevitable I will come into contact with germs. Kids are notorious for poor hygiene. Yet from my time spent commuting, it has occurred to me that there are many adults who appear to have worse habits than the children I see at the elementary school. Chances are if you are going out in public, you too, are exposed to viruses on a regular basis.
According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal “Children under two years have about six infections a year, adults two to three and older people about one per year. Stress and poor sleep may increase the risk of the common cold among adults, whereas attendance at a daycare centre increases the risk among preschool children.”[i]
Here are my tips for avoiding the common cold and flu:
- Wash your hands well. This is always step one in prevention. Good hygiene is one of the best ways to help prevent illnesses from spreading. This means washing regularly with soap and water and every surface of the hand should be scrubbed for 15 seconds. When teaching kids to wash properly, have them sing Happy Birthday, as it takes roughly 15 seconds.
- Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, or nose when out in public. When people who are sick sneeze or cough, their germs are expelled into the air in tiny droplets. If these droplets get onto your hands (think opening doors, shaking hands with people, ) and then if you touch your mouth, eyes or nose without washing away the germs first, you carry the infection.
- Sleep well. Research has shown adults sleeping 6 hours or less per night are at a greater risk of developing the common cold compared to those sleeping 7 or more hours per night![ii] Therefore, 7-9 hours of sleep each night for adults is optimal while between 9-10 hours for children and teens is best.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods, which lack the vitamins and minerals your body requires when fighting off a virus.
- Take a daily age- appropriate multivitamin. Realistically, it’s unlikely you eat a perfectly balanced diet every day. A multivitamin can be a good insurance policy against possible nutritional deficiencies from your diet.
- Take extra vitamin C. According to a research paper on vitamin C and immune function; low blood levels of vitamin C are common because we use up more due to pollution, smoking, and fighting. They state, “Vitamin C appears to be able to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections by enhancing various immune cell functions.”² They conclude that in order to prevent infections you need a daily amount of at least 100 – 200 mg daily and that at least 1000 mg is suggested during an infection.²
- Take vitamin D year-round to help support a healthy immune system. In a research review paper published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences it was concluded that “The studies clearly show that vitamin D is, undoubtedly, part of the complex factors which affect the immune response….[it] should be regarded as one of the essential factors which improve our health condition overall and also support our fight against diseases.”[iii]
- Reduce stress. As mentioned above, stress weakens your immunity and ability to recover. Everyone has their own way to help them de-stress, from yoga to meditation, to just listening to their favourite music.
If you do happen to feel the start of a cold coming on, here are some extra tips:
- Take echinacea. According to Health Canada, echinacea “helps to relieve the symptoms and shorten the duration of upper respiratory tract infections (common cold)”.[iv]
- Take ginger. According to Health Canada, ginger has traditionally been used in herbal medicine to help relieve digestive upset, including nausea, and digestive spasms. It has also been used as an expectorant and cough suppressant to help relieve bronchitis as well as coughs and colds.[v]
- Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids such as water, herbal teas, fresh fruit/vegetable juices and soups. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, but not with your hands. Sometimes called the “kindergarten cough,” because in kindergarten they now teach kids to cough or sneeze into the crook of their arm versus into their hands. Considering kindergarteners touch everything, I think this is an excellent plan.
- Use saline nasal irrigation According to the research journal Canadian Family Physician “Nasal irrigation is a simple, inexpensive treatment that relieves the symptoms of a variety of sinus and nasal conditions.”[vi] You can purchase pre-made solutions or make your own. A homemade saline solution can be made from 1 litre of tap water, 10 ml of salt and 2.5 ml of baking soda. Always boil tap water for at least 3 minutes and then add the other ingredients to the boiled water. Allow it to cool before use. The solution will keep for 7 days in the refrigerator in a clean, airtight glass container.[vii]
- Throw your used tissues directly into the garbage. Many people (particularly in their own homes) will leave a pile of used tissues on a table beside their bed or couch. If you share your home with anyone else, keep a garbage bin or bag beside you in order to immediately dispose of used tissues. This leaves less chance of contamination for family members or roommates.
[i] Allan GM, Arroll B (2014). Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidence. CMAJ. Feb 18;186(3):190-9.
[ii] Prather AA, et al. (2015). Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep. Sep 1;38(9):1353-9.
[iii] Gruber-Bzura BM. (2018). Vitamin D and Influenza-Prevention or Therapy? Int J Mol Sci. Aug 16;19(8). Pii:E2419
[iv] Health Canada (2018). Echinacea Purpurea Monograph. Accessed Sept 17, 2019 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=echinacea.purpurea&lang=eng
[v] Health Canada. Ginger Monograph. Accessed Sept 12, 2019 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=ginger.gingembre&lang=eng
[vi] Papsin B, McTavish A. (2003). Saline nasal irrigation: It’s role as an adjunct treatment. Can Fam Physician. Feb;49:168-73
[vii] CHU Sainte-Justine. Nasal Hygiene. Accessed Sept 18, 2019 at: https://www.chusj.org/getmedia/4288da42-4e62-43c9-8500-c300b1eebc2a/depliant_F-886-A_hygiene-nasale.pdf.aspx?ext=.pdf