Boost Your Immunity: 7 Ways to Avoid Colds and Flu This Winter
Posted 10/29/2014 by UHBlog
The days are shorter, the air is crisp and the leaves have turned lovely shades of gold and crimson. But fall also heralds cold and flu season, which wreaks havoc at work and school, leads to sick days and costs employers billions in productivity. “We’re more susceptible in the fall and winter because we’re in closer contact with people,” says family medicine specialist Eileen Goldman, MD.
Adults get an average of two to four colds a year. Children get six to eight. And that doesn’t count random outbreaks of other bugs that occur, such as the enterovirus known as EV-D68, which has struck more than 600 people in the U.S. this year.
Although adults can contract the bug – which causes fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough and body aches – children are more susceptible to infection, because they haven’t yet developed immunity to many viruses.
Unlike the common cold and many other viral respiratory infections, the flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people. It is estimated that in the United States, each year on average 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications.
There’s no cure for viruses that causes respiratory illness, so it’s wise to avoid infection in the first place. Here are some proven ways to arm your immune system against microbial invaders:
Wash, wash, wash
Your best defense against any illness-causing viruses: “Frequent hand-washing with soap and water, especially before touching your eyes,” says Dr. Goldman. “Droplets from an infected person can pass that way.” Use hand-sanitizing gels that contain alcohol when you can’t get to a sink.
Roll up your sleeve
Anyone over six months old should get the flu vaccine. That includes women who are pregnant. “Getting the flu shot is one of the best things that you can do for your health,” says Dr. Goldman. It not only offers personal protection to an individual, it also helps stop the spread of the flu to other people. People who are squeamish about needles can now get a nasal spray instead of a shot.
Get your Z’s
“Good health habits like sleep improve your immune system overall,” says Dr. Goldman. In fact research shows that people who sleep less than seven hours a night are more likely to catch a cold than those who sleep at least eight hours at night.
Get off the couch
A fitness habit can also help. One study revealed that women who exercised regularly lowered their risk of colds.
Neither Echinacea nor zinc – both touted as cold and flu fighters – are effective against colds and flu, says Dr. Goldman. Vitamin C might cut down on the number of colds you get but only if you are using it regularly. Taking it after the first sneeze or sniffle won’t do the trick.
Don’t light up
Cigarette smoke appears to damage the mucus membranes, which act as the frontline barrier to infectious agents. Smoking also suppresses the immune system overall.
Guard your germs
If you get sick, do your part to keep the bug from spreading, advises Dr. Goldman. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Don’t share utensils. And wipe down common objects like phones and the remote control.
Flu Clinics at all UH hospitals starting November 1
UH has joined with other Northeast Ohio hospitals and the City of Cleveland in a collaborative public awareness effort, Focus on Flu, aimed at educating residents about the importance of flu vaccinations. For more information go to UHhospitals.org/FocusOnFlu.
In conjunction with this effort, UH will hold flu shot clinics at all UH community hospitals on Saturday, November 1, from 9 to 11 am. Shots will be $15, or free for Medicare recipients. No appointments necessary. The flu clinics will be held in the main lobby at:
- UH Ahuja Medical Center, 3999 Richmond Road, Beachwood
- UH Bedford Medical Center, 44 Blaine Avenue, Bedford
- UH Conneaut Medical Center, 158 West Main Road, Conneaut
- UH Elyria Medical Center, 630 East River Street, Elyria
- UH Geauga Medical Center, 13207 Ravenna Road, Chardon
- UH Geneva Medical Center, 870 West Main Street, Geneva
- UH Parma Medical Center, 7007 Powers Blvd., Parma
- UH Richmond Medical Center, 27100 Chardon Road, Richmond Heights
- St. John Medical Center, 299000 Center Ridge Road, Westlake
If you can’t make it to a UH facility November 1, make your flu shot appointment today online or call 1-866-UH4-CARE (1-866-844-2273).
Eileen Goldman, MD, is a family medicine specialist at Ghent Family Practice. You can Request an Appointment with Dr. Goldman or any other doctor online.