Cold Comfort

‘Tis the peak month for colds and flu, and the dreaded germs can lay anyone low – even Santa himself. Here’s our guide to help minimise the risks of getting sick 

Winter is the season for colds and flu. Although scientists still don’t know why, we do know that December is when infections tend to become prevalent. And as colds circulate round offices and schools it can put a real dampener on the festive season.

Blocked nose, sore throat, muscle aches, pressure in your ears and face – who needs it? While it may be bloomin’ difficult to avoid entirely this winter here are a few top tips to (hopefully) minimise the risks…

Keep warm – Once you start feeling the cold you shiver and this depresses the immune system, making us more likely to catch colds. We lose up to 30 per cent of our body heat through our heads – so wear a hat.

Weather watch – Low cloud, dull and misty conditions tend to bring an increase in germs as viruses survive longer when the weather is moist. They can hang in the air attached to water droplets more easily, and when it’s cloudy and dull there are fewer breezes to blow the germs away. This is the time when you’re more likely to catch something.

Wash your hands – Germs can be transmitted by physical contact and enter the body when infected hands touch vulnerable parts like our eyes, mouths and noses. Washing hands often – and drying them on disposable paper towels – can significantly reduce the chances of catching a virus, especially the rotavirus, which tends to infect children and causes vomiting and diarrhoea. Use soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Avoid contact – Keep away from anyone who is sick. Stay home if you are sick to prevent spreading your illness. When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, or cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve.

Use tissues – If you have a runny nose remember the mantra ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’. Catch any sneezes in a tissue, bin any tissues immediately and kill the virus by washing your hands with soap and warm water.

Vitamin boost – Especially vitamin D (essential for teeth and bones and helps resistance against winter bugs), vitamin C (boosts the immune system, reduces inflammation as well as fighting fatigue) and iron (helps produce haemoglobin in the red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs around the body and boosts energy levels).

Zinc and garlic – The mineral zinc is essential to help fight colds and provide a boost to a flagging immune system. Good food sources include meat, eggs, seafood, tofu, black-eyed peas and wheat germ. Garlic helps ease chest complaints and small amounts taken daily may also reduce the frequency of colds and flu.

Eat green vegetables – Green, leafy vegetables are rich in vitamins that help you maintain a balanced diet and support a healthy immune system. Also, maybe swap sandwiches for soup at lunchtime. Studies found that drinking any warm liquid – like tea, soup or stew – helps relieve symptoms by loosening congestion and stimulating the flow of mucus.

Drink plenty of water – Doctors recommend we drink about eight glasses of water a day to stay healthy. Water helps the kidneys function properly and flushes out the toxins that accumulate in our bodies. Especially important to stay hydrated if you’ve already caught a cold. And, sorry, but it’s best to lower your alcohol intake. Too much booze can increase your exposure to bacterial and viral infections.

Keep on moving – Regular activity, keeping our circulation going and enjoying plenty of fresh air will all help our bodies fight bacteria and viruses.

Good night’s sleep – Lack of sleep makes us more prone to infection. If you’re not rested and are stressed you are more likely to become ill compared to when you’re feeling happy and relaxed.

And finally… get a flu vaccine – This highly infectious virus is different to the common cold and kills an average of 8,000 people a year. It can be particularly serious in older adults, very young children and people with underlying health conditions, so check if you’re eligible for a free jab. The flu vaccine remains the best defence we have. There are different flu jabs available so chat with your GP for more advice. Remember that the jab doesn’t cause the flu and unfortunately it won’t protect you against the common cold.