Everybody dreads cold and flu season. Both highly contagious viruses can make you feel miserable and leave you out of commission for days or even weeks on end.
Although the common cold and the influenza virus both cause upper respiratory infections, their symptoms and intensity vary. You may cough with either, but a cold is more likely to give you a runny nose. Both may make you feel tired and run down, but the flu is more likely to give you chills, body aches, and extreme fatigue.
While your cold probably won’t lead to other health problems, the flu can cause complications like pneumonia, bacterial infections, hospitalization, or even death.
Dr. Bharat Gandhi, our board-certified urgent care specialist at Medinet Family Care Clinic, in Houston, TX is dedicated to helping patients stay healthy through cold and flu season and beyond. She offers the following preventive steps to protect yourself and your family from getting snared by cold and flu season this winter.
Get a flu shot
Getting an annual flu vaccination is the first step to protecting yourself and your family from the flu. The vaccine changes each year, based on early predictions of which viral strains will be most common.
Although an annual flu shot is recommended for everyone six months and older, it’s especially important for people who have a higher risk of serious complications from the flu. This includes young children, pregnant women, adults over the age of 65, and people with chronic health conditions, like asthma and diabetes.
If you haven’t already gotten your flu shot this season, it’s important to do so as soon as possible to ensure that you’re protected throughout the flu season. Beyond your flu shot, here are other ways to stay healthy this fall and winter.
Wash your hands frequently
Frequent handwashing is, in a sense, a kind of “do-it-yourself” vaccine, as it’s one of the best ways to remove germs, prevent their spread, and avoid getting sick.
Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing. Remember to wash your hands after leaving the grocery store or other places where you touch germ hotspots.
In addition to teaching young children when to wash their hands, show them how. Effective handwashing requires lathering soap on moistened hands — including the backs of the hands and between fingers — for at least 30 seconds.
Cover that cough and sneeze!
Cold and flu season is an excellent time to practice covering your mouth and nose every time you sneeze and cough, especially because you can spread the viruses before you know you have them.
Don’t cough or sneeze into your hands, though; instead, place a tissue over your mouth and nose, or turn your face into your elbow.
Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep can’t prevent exposure to cold and flu germs, but it can put your immune system in a better position to fight them off.
It’s possible to catch a cold or flu virus and not become sick or only experience mild symptoms. While there are a lot of factors at play, one thing is certain: A well-rested body is more likely to fight off a viral infection faster.
Disinfect common surfaces
If you regularly clean and disinfect the frequently-touched surfaces in your home or at work, you’ll cut down on germs lingering in common hotspots.
Once every few days, use disinfectant wipes to go over doorknobs, counters, tabletops, and phone screens. It’s also a good idea to wash communal hand towels more often during cold and flu season (or switch to paper towels), and avoid sharing cups and utensils, especially when someone in your family is sick.
Don’t touch your face
Cold and flu viruses often make their way into your body through your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you avoid touching those areas when your hands aren’t clean, you’ll decrease your chances of coming down with a cold or the flu later on.
Avoid close contact with sick people
Avoiding contact with cold and flu sufferers seems obvious, but it’s not always possible. If your child or partner is the one who’s sick, you’ll want to do your best to take care of them, while still protecting yourself.
Ideally, your annual flu vaccine already gives you some amount of protection. You can further protect yourself by washing your hands frequently and disinfecting common kitchen and bathroom surfaces often.
Take your flu symptoms seriously
If you feel achy and tired or believe you may have the flu, come in and see us as soon as possible. When the flu is diagnosed early enough, you can take an antiviral medication that may help make your illness milder or shorter.
Antiviral flu medications work best when they’re started no more than two days after the onset of symptoms, and can help protect against serious complications. For people at high risk of complications from the flu, these medications can mean the difference between a mild illness or a hospital stay.
Stay home when you’re sick
If you’re feeling poorly, but aren’t sure if you’re actually coming down with something, practice good hygiene habits, get plenty of rest, and avoid close contact with others so you don’t spread the virus.
When you have a fever, stay home for at least 24 hours after your temperature has returned to normal (without the use of fever-reducing medication). And if your fever disappeared but you still feel awful, listen to your body and get some sleep to boost your recovery process.
If you’ve been diagnosed with the flu and received antiviral medication, stay home and lay low until you feel like yourself again. To receive your flu shot or seek relief from cold or flu symptoms, call our Houston office at 281-564-3300, or request an appointment online. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff is standing by to assist you.