Cold and Flu Season 101

Dr. Kumkum Modwel Recommends:

While many of us know the basics of cold and flu season, such as when the season typically starts (October) and how both viruses are spread (from person to person by contact with respiratory droplets), there still seems to be some confusion surrounding this topic. With cold and flu season on the way, now’s the time to learn how to improve your immune system so you can have a better chance at fighting off cold and flu viruses. It’s also important to gain a better understanding of how the cold and flu compare and contrast, including the duration and severity of their symptoms, so that you know what to do in case you or your loved ones get sick between now and Spring.

Here are some basic guidelines to help you differentiate between the common cold and the influenza virus:

  • Although the cold and flu are both caused by viruses that invade and infect the upper airways, there are 100 different viruses that can cause a cold, whereas the flu is caused by influenza virus types A, B, and C, with the large seasonal outbreaks being caused by type A and B viruses.
  • Colds cause milder symptoms such as a sore throat and runny nose, while the flu causes more intense symptoms such as extreme fatigue, fever, chills, body aches, and/or dry cough. Unlike the common cold, the flu can also develop into a more serious condition, such as pneumonia, especially for pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and those with asthma, diabetes or heart disease, which are health conditions that weaken the immune system.
  • While flu symptoms come on suddenly over a 3 to 6 hour period, cold symptoms are known to develop gradually over the course of a few days. Someone with a cold is most contagious 2 to 4 days after symptoms show up. Yet, someone with the flu can spread the virus before they even know they have it, such as a day before they look and feel sick and up to 7 days after that.

Follow these tips to help keep your immune system strong and healthy so you can reduce your risk of catching (and spreading) a dreaded cold or flu in the upcoming months:

  • Eat healthy, vitamin-enriched foods, such as spinach (contains folate, which helps your body make new cells and repair DNA) and sweet potatoes (contain beta-carotene that turns into vitamin A in the body, which clears up damaging free radicals. Mushrooms, broccoli, acai berries, and elderberries are also among the top ranking foods that can keep you healthy. Click here for a full list of foods that help enhance immune function.
  • Drink a lot of water. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) currently recommends that women should drink at least 72 ounces water per day (9 cups), and men should drink at least 104 ounces of water per day (13 cups). Staying hydrated helps your body eliminate waste materials and toxins, which allows your immune system to effectively fight off any infection. Don’t like drinking plain water? Try adding lemon. Lemons have a lot of Vitamin C, a key nutrient which reduces the duration and the severity of colds.
  • Exercise for 30 minutes 3-4 times per week. Exercise increases your white blood cells, which helps ward off infections.
  • Take supplements, as directed by your physician, such as vitamins and probiotics. Consider taking an immunity boosting mixture, consisting of a multi-vitamin, vitamin C, Omega 3 fatty acids, and probiotics. Probiotics help to maintain a healthy gut. A healthy gut means a strong immune system, as 70% of your immune system is in your gut. Probiotics are good bacteria that help prevent infection and reduce inflammation. Probiotics can be taken as supplements or you can get your dose of probiotics by eating fermented foods such as unpasteurized sauerkraut, or by drinking kombucha. Click here to order the highest grade, 3rd party tested supplements.
  • Get enough sleep and balance your stress. Sleeping for at least seven hours each night protects your immune system. Managing your stress is just as important as getting enough sleep because stress causes cortisol imbalances. Cortisol is crucial in white blood cell production and overall immune function.
  • Most people commonly come down with the flu in February, however, flu outbreaks can happen anytime between October and April. The fall is the best time to get your flu vaccine because it’s before flu season really starts, allowing your body adequate time to strengthen immunity.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick or who you think may be getting sick. Also, keep your distance from others if you get sick by staying home from work. Make sure to keep your kids home from school if they’re sick too!
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your inner arm when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash your hands regularly to reduce the spread of germs. Use an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and warm water are unavailable.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially during cold and flu season.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. It only takes a few virus particles to permeate your mucous membranes and make you sick.
  • Keeping your windows closed day after day interferes with proper air circulation. Make it a habit to open your windows for even a short period of time on a regular basis. If it’s too cold to open windows, buy some houseplants to clean and filter out volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
*If you think you or a family member may have the flu, contact us at (203) 270-1077 to schedule an appointment with your doctor or APRN to get tested within the first 48 hours of showing symptoms.