Staying Healthy During Flu Season!
By: Rachel Alcantara, RN BSN NCSN
Staying healthy during the cold and flu season can be difficult. However, there are several measures you can take to try to keep yourself healthy.
Tips for staying healthy:
- Get your flu shot! Most insurances will cover the flu shot at 100%. Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently, but millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your risk of getting sick with seasonal flu and spreading it to others. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through that community.
- Wash your hands frequently! Flu viruses are spread by droplets from infected people when they sneeze, blow their nose, or wipe away secretions from their nose or eyes. During flu season, everyone should be encouraged to keep their hands out of their nose and mouths, avoid rubbing their eyes, and wash their hands thoroughly several times a day, especially before meals.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in Vitamins C & E! Foods containing these vitamins are believed to be helpful in supporting the immune system. Foods rich in vitamin E include sunflower and corn oils, sunflower seeds, and nuts such as almonds and peanuts. You can get your daily vitamin C from foods like orange juice, citrus fruits, broccoli and green peppers. And make an effort to reduce your intake of concentrated sugar (e.g. soda, candy) because excessive sugar impairs the immune response.
- Get a good night's sleep! Lack of sleep may profoundly inhibit your immune system. Get a full night’s sleep to keep your body’s natural defenses at optimum efficiency.
- Stay hydrated! Increasing your water intake will help you stay healthy and lessen the chance of you coming down with flu. When you are feeling under the weather, drinking extra fluids prevents dehydration caused by fever, loosens mucus, and keeps your throat moist. Warm liquids are preferable, and there is some evidence that inhaling steam early in the course of a cold or flu may reduce the spread of viruses in your upper respiratory tract.
- Exercise Regularly! Not only can regular exercise lower stress, but research indicates that exercise can stimulate the immune system and promote healthy sleep. In a recent study reported in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, scientists found that modest exercise may prevent the elderly from getting colds and flu.
Got the flu?
Here are ten tips to ease flu symptoms:
- Stay home and get plenty of rest! On the first day you have symptoms, call your work or school and tell them you won't be coming in for a few days. You're sick and very contagious! Take advantage of down time and give your body some much needed rest. Curl up on the couch and spend some time reading, watching movies or your favorite show, or just cat-napping while your body battles the virus. Take it easy. Spending excessive energy steals valuable resources from the immune system. Even attempting to perform normal activities at work or school may be too much. Besides, if you believe you’re coming down with flu, probably the best thing you can do for friends and family is to not expose them unnecessarily to the virus.
- Drink plenty of fluids! Make sure you get more liquids. It doesn't all have to be water; fruit juices, sports drinks, and broth-based soups also count. They keep your respiratory system hydrated and turn that nasty, thick mucus into a thin liquid you can cough up and spit out. That's good because if it builds up in your lungs it could lead to an infection.
- Treat aches and fever! A fever means that your body has turned up the heat to fight off the flu virus. Treat is and the aches that come with it with over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin). Ask your doctor which is right for you. Never give aspirin to anyone younger than 19. It's linked to a condition known as Reye's syndrome, a serious illness that can damage the brain and liver.
- Take care of your cough! Over-the-counter treatments can calm your cough. Try an expectorant, which turns mucus into liquid so you can cough it up. Don't give over-the-counter cough or cold medicine to children under 4.
- Breathe in steam! Fill the bathroom sink with hot water. Add 1 teaspoon of an over-the-counter menthol rub and breathe in the steam for several minutes until you feel better. You can also add a few drops of menthol or eucalyptus oil. They can open your airways, ease congestion, and make it easier to breathe. If you're still stuffed up, sit in the bathroom with the door closed. Let the shower run hot until the room fills with moist steam. Sit away from the water to avoid burns.
- Run the humidifier or vaporizer! If the air in your house is dry, a mist humidifier or vaporizer can moisten it to ease congestion and coughs. Don't use a warm mist because it can promote the growth of bacteria and molds. Also make sure to keep the device clean to prevent mold development.
- Try a lozenge! Sucking on soothing lozenges will moisten and coat a scratchy throat. It may quiet your cough too.
- Saline nose drops! Saline nose drops or sprays are available over-the-counter at any drug or grocery store. They work, they're safe (even for kids), and they won't make you sore throat worse. Put several drops into one nostril, and gently blow the mucus and saline out. Repeat the process on the other side until both are unblocked.
- Ask for an antiviral! You take these drugs when symptoms start. They can lessen and shorten the flu. Call your doctor if you have signs of the flu, especially if you have a condition like diabetes, heart disease, or HIV that makes you more likely to have complications. These drugs can cut your case of flu by a day if you get them early on. They can also help prevent the flu in someone who has just been exposed. Don't bother with antibiotics. They only work against infections caused by bacteria. The flu is a viral infection.
- Seek help if you get worse! If your symptoms become significantly worse after the first three days of illness, especially if your fever subsides and then returns, be sure to seek medical attention right away. The reason that flu is considered a potentially dangerous infection is that it leaves the body vulnerable to other infections like pneumonia.
Stop the spread of germs!
- Avoid close contact! Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Stay home when you are sick! If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
- Cover your mouth and nose! Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. (Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.)
- Wash your hands! Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth! Germs are often spread when a person touches a surface or object that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces or objects! Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu can help slow the spread of influenza.
Healthy habits can protect everyone from getting germs or spreading germs at home, work, or school!