8 ways to avoid a cold or flu

Colds and flu are caused by hundreds of different types of viruses. These infections are highly contagious, passed on by tiny droplets when you cough or sneeze and by hand contact.

And while it’s nearly impossible to avoid these germs altogether, there are ways to lower the risk of catching a cold or flu.

8 ways to avoid getting sick

Wash your hands. We’ve all heard it hundreds of times: When it comes to preventing colds and flu, be sure to wash your hands – and do it often. It may be the simplest advice of all, but many Canadians still don’t heed it, nor are they teaching their children to do it.

Although thorough and frequent hand washing is thought to be one of the most important ways to ward off colds and flu — as well as food-borne illness — only about 37 per cent of Canadian parents have their children wash their hands before eating, according to a survey by the Health and Hygiene Council Canada. (This compares with 80 per cent of parents in Malaysia, 79 per cent in India and 76 per cent in Italy who reported their children always washed their hands before meals.)

While some cold germs are airborne, others get passed around on our hands — making it important to wash hands frequently using soap and warm water for at least twenty seconds or by using alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Sanitize surfaces at your home and office. While proper hand washing can remove germs on your hands, cold viruses can lurk just about everywhere: on doorknobs, telephones, computer keyboards, bus or subway poles, gym equipment and shopping cart handles. While you can’t always control what surfaces you touch in public (hence the importance of frequent hand washing), maintain home and office sanitation by remaining vigilant about wiping down surfaces. And remember that germs love wet surfaces, so keep your counters as dry as possible.

Tip: Use sanitizing wipes as a convenient way to clean computer keyboards, cell phones, light switches, TV remotes, doorknobs, etc.

Steer clear of crowded places. No need to avoid the great outdoors even when the weather is cold. Contrary to what your grandmother may have told you, being out in the cold doesn’t cause colds and flu. Actually it’s the reverse: being inside with people and germs increases risk of infection. As much as possible try to steer clear of crowded places during the height of cold and flu season.

Rest and de-stress. Tension and not getting enough rest can weaken your immune system and make you less resistant to infection. Try to keep to a regular sleeping routine, and to help control stress, learn relaxation techniques such as pausing for several deep breaths throughout the day or taking regular stretch breaks.

Keep to a healthy diet and fitness and routine. Remember, during this highly contagious season it’s more important than ever to maintain a healthy diet and fitness routine.

Don’t sneeze or cough into your hands. While it’s important to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough to prevent spreading germs, keep germs off your hands by coughing and sneezing into a disposable tissue or, if need be, the bend of your elbow. As much as possible, refrain from touching your nose, eyes or mouth.

Don’t share. If someone in your family is sick, be particularly diligent about not sharing personal items such as drinking glasses or hand towels.

Listen to mum’s advice to drink fluids. According to the Mayo Clinic, drinking plenty of fluids, particularly water, is one of the best ways to flush your system of a virus.

If you do get sick

For relief of cold and flu symptoms, many people look to over-the-counter medications. While these medications can’t help to prevent an infection, they can sometimes help to ease the symptoms. (Note: It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication.)

Here’s a general guide for finding over the counter relief for your particular symptom(s).

For sneezing, itchy eyes, runny noses look for products containing antihistamines. (These can make you drowsy, however, so you may want to look for a non-drowsy formula.)

Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrines, are used to relieve nasal congestion. These come in various forms such as pills or sprays.

For coughs, it’s important to evaluate what kind of cough you have and therefore, what you need. To break up chest congestion and have a more productive cough, choose an expectorant (containing Guaifenesin) which is supposed to thin mucus.

Or if you’re looking to stop a dry, hacking cough, the better choice may be a cough syrup or lozenge that contains a suppressant (Dextromethorphan or DM).

If your cough is coming from a tickle in your throat, a lozenge containing benzocaine and menthol can help to numb your throat.

Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) can all reduce fever and aches associated with colds and flu. (But if you’re taking a cold remedy as well, make sure it doesn’t already contain the same ingredient.)

Suffering from multiple symptoms? There are a number of medications that treat more than one symptom. (Examples include Contac Complete Cough, Cold & Flu, Tylenol Cold & Flu and Advil Cold & Sinus .) Experts warn, however, not to take medication for symptoms you do not have. Also be sure to check expiration dates before buying any product — and read product labels carefully to avoid an accidental overdose.

References: The Mayo Clinic; Health and Hygiene Council Canada; Health Canada, BBC Health, US Food and Drug Administration.


Read the news release for the Health and Hygiene Council Canada study.

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