According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults contract an average of 2-3 colds every year—and kids catch colds even more frequently. It’s tough when a child gets sick and, as a busy parent, I don’t have time for colds! We try to keep our home environment as clean as we can, but living entirely germ-free is unfortunately impossible.
As a registered dietitian, I’m interested in what the science says works to protect against colds and flu. Here are some proven prevention strategies to help keep you and your family healthy.
HEALTHY HAND WASHING
It’s basic but it works. Since 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted through touch, washing your hands frequently with soap and water is your best protection against cold and flu viruses. Teach children thorough hand washing hygiene, using warm water and soap for at least 15-20 seconds. Pack a hand sanitizer for those times when soap and water aren’t available. At a minimum, hands should be washed after using the bathroom, prior to eating/preparing food, and before any activity that requires touching of the mouth, eyes, or nose.
Cold viruses take up residence in the nose and throat and travel through the air via sneezes. When someone sneezes, miniscule virus droplets can land on children’s toys or other objects that come in contact with their eyes, nose or mouth. Help kids keep their germs to themselves by having them sneeze or cough like Dracula would – into their shoulder or elbow — not uncovered into the air or into their hands. If they use a tissue, they should be taught to dispose of it immediately and then wash their hands. Discourage toys and hands from going into their eyes, or nasal or oral cavities. Don’t forget to provide positive praise for the good hygiene they practice!
Vaccines are critical to help keeping the flu in check. The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for individuals 6 months and older; shots or nasal sprays are available to most. Even those with egg allergies can now receive the vaccine safely.
A healthy lifestyle, including adequate sleep (at least 7 hours for adults and 9-10 for children), regular exercise, stress management and positive outlook can support your immune system and keep you healthy. Eat to Stay Healthy Diet also plays an important role in staying well during the cold and flu season. Vitamins A, E, B-6 and folic acid can help support the body’s immune defenses. A diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables provides antioxidants and other essential nutrients to help you stay healthy.
HOW TO SPELL RELIEF
While there is no cure for the common cold, there are ways to alleviate symptoms. According to the National Institutes of Health, common-sense approaches like getting lots of rest and fluids can help. Over-the-counter medicines may also relieve symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and congestion.
With these simple precautions you may be smiling more and sniffling less this season.
1 Barrett B, Brown R, Rakel D, Rabago D, Marchand L, et al. (2011) Placebo Effects and the Common Cold: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Ann Fam Med 9: 312–322
2 Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013