Doctors Explain the Best Ways to Stop a Nasty Cold Before It Even Starts

From women's health
When a cold hits your body it can appear like you're at the mercy of the virus when it comes to how long it will take. “The common cold is a viral infection of your throat and nose, also known as your upper respiratory tract. Many types of virus can cause colds, but the most common culprit is rhinovirus, "says Adiba Khan, M.D., general practitioner at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.
A runny nose, sore throat, cough, constipation, mild body aches and pains and headaches, sneezing, and mild fever can all make you feel exhausted before your symptoms improve. Not to mention, having a cold feels a lot like COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
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But a real cold is usually harmless, although it can take up to two weeks to feel better, explains Deborah S. Clements, M.D., a family doctor at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.
The best thing you can do to keep you feeling healthy during the colder months? Prevent a cold from taking over your body in the first place. In fact, there are a multitude of ways that you can prevent colds and shorten their length. Here's exactly what you can do to help fight them all season so you can save those sick days for something more fun.
1. Turn on the humidifier.
Low humidity dries out your nasal passages, making it harder to trap and get rid of the micro-bugs that settle in your sinuses, ultimately leading to a cold. The repair? Invest in a humidifier and run it when the air feels dry.
“A humidifier can help keep the mucous membranes moist. Dry mucous membranes in your nose inhibit your body's ability to trap germs as they enter your system, ”said Amber Tully, M.D., family doctor at Cleveland Clinic.
Make sure to keep your humidifier clean, though, as the warm, humid environment can become a breeding ground for mold (which can also lead to cold symptoms if you're allergic to it).
2. Recharge Vitamin D.
Research shows that people who aren't getting enough vitamin D are far more likely to have an upper respiratory tract infection causing a cough, sore throat, or nasal congestion than people who are topping up the sun vitamin, possibly because their cells depend on D, to activate their immune responses. "Some studies have shown that supplementing with 400 international units of vitamin D per day can prevent respiratory infections," says Dr. Khan.
Currently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggest that most adults aim for at least 600 IU per day, but some organizations recommend much more than that. Getting enough vitamin D through your diet alone is difficult (you can get it in Foods like salmon, beef, egg yolks, fortified milk and orange juice, cheese and mushrooms). So, if you suspect you are low, speak to your doctor about finding a supplement that will work for you and your needs.
3. Keep your hands clean - and away from your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Even if you don't realize it, you are probably touching your face a lot. A small study from 2008 found that participants touched their face an average of 16 times an hour. This is a major no-no during cold and flu seasons: if you come into contact with a virus - through someone else or an infected surface - it can get into your system if your hands are not properly cleaned, the Centers said for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Viruses spread like a handshake through skin contact," says Dr. Clements.
So stick to a hands-off guideline. "This prevents germs on your hands from spreading to your lining (nose and mouth) and getting sick," says Dr. Tully.
Make sure you wash your hands properly while you are at it. Use soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds (between your fingers and under your nails!), Says the CDC. Opt for a hand sanitizer (like these travel size bottles from Purell) when you are in an emergency.
4. Disinfect your phone.
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Think of all the places you hang up the phone during the day: the kitchen counter, a bathroom cubicle, your restaurant table - talk about a germination festival.
A 2012 study by the University of Arizona found that cell phones may contain ten times as many bacteria as toilet seats.
Apple recommends using a Lysol or Clorox disinfectant wipe to disinfect your devices. Just make sure to shut down your phone, squeeze out any excess liquid (you don't want a pool of the material sitting on your screen), and dry it off with a soft, lint-free cloth. Remember that while bleach is great for getting rid of viruses, products that contain the substance can damage your phone. If you're having trouble finding cleaning wipes near you, follow these instructions on how to disinfect your phone with alcohol.
5. Take some time to relax.
Are you feeling nervous? Feeling run down can actually pave the way for a cold, as stress causes your body to pump out excess cortisol, a hormone that can weaken your immune system's ability to fight infection, says Dr. Tully.
Make unwinding a priority: take up yoga, try meditation, take a daily nature walk, or after work, set some priorities to have dinner with your family - anything you like helps shake off a long day, helps.
6. Get a lot of sleep.
Taking a good nap is key to preventing colds. In a JAMA study on internal medicine, researchers gave 153 healthy men and women nasal drops containing rhinovirus and tracked their sleep habits. They found that people who regularly had less than seven hours of sleep were three times more likely to get a cold than people who slept eight hours or more each night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends aiming for at least 7 to 9 hours per night. Can't you fall asleep Check out these 100 ways to get better sleep every night.
7. Reach for zinc.
Research suggests zinc may actually reduce virus growth, says Dr. Clements. Additionally, ingesting zinc (typically in the form of zinc lozenges or zinc gluconate nasal sprays) appears to decrease the duration and severity of symptoms immediately after they appear, according to the NIH.
"Although the correct dosage is currently unclear, studies have only shown benefits at daily doses greater than 75 milligrams," says Dr. Clements. The NIH suggests that most adults need much less to meet their daily needs. So take zinc-rich foods rather than a supplement (unless you speak to your doctor about it first). Meat, tofu, oysters, and lentils are great sources of the mineral.
8. Label your drinking glass.
“If a family member has a cold, try using disposable jars or label jars. This can help prevent accidental spread of the virus, ”says Dr. Khan. And be especially careful when sharing items that can be contaminated by a sick family member, especially those under COVID-19, such as phones, towels, or utensils.
9. Turn on with probiotics.
Not all bacteria are bad - the good insects in your gut found in probiotic foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha can support your immune system. After all, a large part of your immune system is right in your gastrointestinal tract.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that rugby players who took a probiotic supplement had far fewer colds and GI infections than those who took a placebo.
More research needs to be done to confirm that probiotics can really keep viruses away. However, studies suggest that the good mistakes seem to be beneficial even when symptoms occur. For example, in a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that college students who took probiotics or a placebo caught cold at a similar rate, while those who took probiotics had less intense symptoms (such as nasal congestion or a sore throat ) had a shorter time.
10. Wear a face mask.
You should still do this as recommended by the CDC. Wearing a face mask is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as other respiratory infections like colds. Not only does it protect the people around you, but research shows that a face mask also protects the wearer.
Viruses, including those that cause the common cold, flu, or COVID-19, usually spread through the air from one infected person to another after a cough or sneeze. When everyone wears a mask, we protect each other from our potentially infected breath droplets.
In addition, "studies show that cloth mask materials can reduce the wearer's exposure to infectious droplets through filtration, including the filtration of fine droplets and particles less than 10 microns," said a CDC research report that found that " Multiple layers of fabric with higher thread counts have shown superior performance compared to single layers of lower thread count fabric. "
11. Get the flu vaccine.
While the common cold and flu are caused by very different viruses, they can feel terribly similar in terms of symptoms. However, the flu hits you harder and can have risky complications, especially if you already have a weakened immune system. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to get a flu shot every year as the viruses circulating are constantly changing. The CDC recommends getting the flu shot (or nasal spray) as soon as the vaccine is available, ideally before October.
Conclusion: prevention is really the best medicine.
But don't freak out if you get sick - most adults get at least a cold or two every year. Just keep track of how long it takes: "If you have a high fever or persistent symptoms, be sure to see your doctor to make sure nothing else happens," says Dr. Clements.
After all, if you think you've been exposed to the virus, getting tested for COVID-19 is more important than ever. If you have a confirmed case of coronavirus rather than a cold, your doctor will guide you to the next best steps based on the severity of your symptoms.
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