The dreaded cold-and-flu season is upon us, and no one dreads this as much as parents. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that adults contract 2-3 colds per year, and children, on average, contract at least three per year. Mathematically, this means that millions of Americans have a cold at any given winter month.
If any family member contracts a cold or flu, not only are they likely to infect the rest of the family (which would be a huge fail), but the odds of them developing a more serious, secondary illness skyrockets. Still, you have to go to work and they have to go to school, so avoiding civilization is out. Arm yourself with the following practices that don’t require medication:
- Get serious about hand hygiene. Have everyone wash their hands once they arrive home from anywhere, in addition to before eating and after using the restroom. Teach your children to sing the alphabet while they wash to illustrate the proper amount of time for a thorough hand-washing. The Centers for disease control have some free printables for your sink areas too.
- Carry hand sanitizer with you when you’re away from home. Let older children keep some in their backpacks in case of poorly-stocked public restrooms.
- Carry antibacterial wipes to high-traffic places. Wipe grocery cart handles, the pen chained to the bank counter, and other things you’ll touch that others have touched too. The person behind you will thank you.
- Keep newborns at home as much as possible. Newborns are still developing their immune systems, so the crowds at Wal-Mart aren’t good for the baby. Take your infant on errands only when necessary.
- Drink hot tea. “Drinking the tea and breathing in steam stimulates the cilia—the hair follicles in the nose—to move out germs more efficiently. Lemon thins mucus, and honey is antibacterial.” says Murray Grossan, MD, ear, nose and throat specialist at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, in Los Angeles. Plus, it keeps you feeling warm and relaxed.
- Disinfect high-traffic items at home. Doorknobs, video game controllers, remote controls, and other things touched by more than one family member should be regularly cleaned with a disinfecting product like Lysol.
- Keep some zinc lozenges on hand. Once someone starts to complain of cold symptoms like a scratchy throat, have him or her take them as directed on the package. Zinc lozenges can make symptoms less severe and speed recovery.
- Stock up on fresh fruit and 100% juice drinks. The vitamin C in fruit is a natural immune booster, and it’s absorbed quickly and inexpensively in its natural form.
- Get enough sleep. It’s tempting to buy some extra time for homework, gift-wrapping and other winter tasks by skimping on sleep, but sleep actually stimulates our immune system.
- Stay at home if you’re ill. Going to school/work with a cold or flu not only transmits the virus to others, but not resting is actually stalling your recovery. Stay home and rest (see item above).
- Continue to exercise if you’re well. Yes, it’s cold outside, but exercise stimulates your body’s virus-killing cells. Besides, if you move vigorously enough, you’ll be warm in no time!
- Consider echinacea and goldenseal. Both boost the immune system, and can be taken as capsules or in teas. If you take prescription medication, ask your doctor or pharmacists if herbs will interact with your medication.
- Swap over-the-counter decongestants for warm salt water. You can put a few drops in each nostril as needed. If using this with your children, test the temperature on the inside of your wrist before administering.
- Take a steamy shower if you’re congested. The stream naturally helps us breathe freely. Have an ill child take a steamy shower just before bedtime to help her breathe and then fall asleep more easily.
Once you or a family member does become ill, remember that rest, fluids, and time are the only reliable methods for feeling better. Antibiotics are prescribed not for a cold but for secondary, bacterial illnesses such as a throat or sinus infection. Call your physician if symptoms persist longer than 10 days or body temperature is above 100.4 degrees.